Thursday, November 12, 2009

To improve Cook Cty democracy, Gov.Quinn holds a Strange, Saturday, Sabbath Stroger Presser—but it was not about Stroger, or Stroger's tax- or was it?

A strange Saturday Sabbath with Gov. Quinn

It was a strange Saturday afternoon at the Thompson Center in the Chicago Loop this past weekend. The few media who showed up in the Blue Room on the 15th Floor for the Press Conference called by Governor Quinn to watch him sign some new legislation were treated to a University of Chicago reform seminar. Yup, it was Poly Sci 101, goo goo style, with Professor Quinn presiding, flanked by his teaching assistants, State Rep. Walker (D-Arlington Heights) and Senator Kotowski.(D-Park Ridge). Senator Noland (D-Elgin) and Rep. Zalewski (D- Summit) were kind of auditing the course-- in attendance, but not really participating. All the show was missing was the reform movement's defrocked Larry Bloom.

Many of the less tutored thought that various Democratic legislators were concerned about the negative image President Stroger is giving the Democratic Party. To such legislators, President Stroger stands for higher Cook County sales taxes, perhaps the highest in the nation, which upsets consumers, employers and employees (voters all) in Cook County who think business and low priced products are being driven out of Cook County, taking with them jobs. Indeed, earlier this year, when appearing on Public Affairs, it seemed that Rep. Walker had that point of view. See here. [Rep. Walker: When I asked people, “what is the number one thing you want me to do in Springfield,” you know what they said? “Get rid of Todd Stroger.”]

Stroger enablers no more: the Democratic Party is now about reform?

The legislation, recently passed, which lowers the requisite percentage of Cook County Board members to override President Stroger’s veto from 80% to 60%, was thought by most to be intended, specifically, to allow the County Board to repeal the much maligned increase in the County sales tax.

When the media showed up on Saturday, they were surprised to learn that Gov. Quinn never really focuses on an individual, such as Todd Stroger or Dan Hynes. For Pat Quinn, Illinois’ only Governor in the 21st Century not to have been indicted, changing the override legislation for Cook County was akin to cleaning up an historical, legislative anomaly. Indeed, it was as if Gov. Quinn had said Saturday was about insuring a more perfect union of the one hundred two counties, only one of which, Cook, had been out of sync with its 80% veto override requirement.

Walker and Kotowski: no politics, please

Same with Rep. Walker and Senator Kotowski. For them, the Saturday afternoon signing ceremony was really just another effort at reform, viewed almost as a glorious, but abstract, concept. Yes, Rep. Walker conceded that the increase in the Cook County sales tax was quite bad for the economy in the District he represents, but he couldn’t really say how much the sales tax increase should be rolled back. That was for others to decide. State Rep. Walker had not gotten “that deep into the numbers to say which is the right solution.” Walker had signed up for the poly sci seminar, not the math seminar.

And, of course, neither Sen. Kotowski nor Rep. Walker was much concerned about the politics of the situation. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, they would be shocked to discover that politics was going on- by politicians holding a presser on a Saturday afternoon- in the blue room. And, to the media’s surprise, no Democrats in the Blue Room had heard anything about Speaker Madigan bottling up, for months, the veto override legislation. Yup, in the University of Chicago seminar view of the making of public policy, it is all about goo-goo goodness, sweetness and reform. Politics at the Thompson Building? Who would have thunk such a thing?

Cook County Comm. Tony Peraica (R-Land of Topinka) showed up and even took to the lectern, after the Dems finished, to provide a counter-lecture, suggesting that yes, the Democrats were indeed worried about encountering the wrath of the people upset about Stroger’s tax and other antics-- and the corruption of the now impeached, arrested and indicted former Governor, Rod Blagojevich. Blago, of course, is affectionately known by one of the seven Republican candidates for Governor, Andy McKenna, Jr. as “Hair.” And, that is the most substantive statement to come out of McKenna’s nascent campaign, to date,

Peraica contended, essentially, that the Democrats were trying to enable a repeal of the County sales tax, to save their political hyde.

Senator Kotowski responded to Comm. Peraica that his feelings were hurt that Tony would even suggest such.

And, the media present were shamed for daring to suggest same.

Finally, it was rumored that all the pols present were being considered for the faculty of the school of journalism at the University of Chicago, should such a school be started.

And, if you would like to read about Saturday’s Seminar, an actual, partial transcript of the press conference at the Thompson Center is included, below.
Jeff Berkowitz: Governor, Senator Kotowski said this wasn’t a matter of party, Democratic or Republican. I think a number of Republicans would argue what is going on [at this bill signing, reducing the vote required to override a Cook County Board President veto from 80% to 60%] is at least, in part, an effort by the Democrats to inoculate their State legislators …on the Northwest side of Chicago in particular and in the Northwest suburbs from the wrath of the voters with regard to Blagojevich, Todd Stroger, public corruption and indeed, they would argue, the Democratic Party in general. What do you say to them?

Gov. Quinn [D-IL]: Well, that sounds like a lot of words about something very specific. I think you should have a three fifths rule [for] the override of an Executive action at the County level in Cook County the way you have at the State level regarding the Governor and the Legislature. I think it is just simple, direct democracy and so…

Jeff Berkowitz: Could we get the response of, in particular, Senator Kutowski and Rep. Walker as to whether they think—

Gov. Quinn: Their political philosophy?

Jeff Berkowitz: No, as to whether they think this is a Todd Stroger concern because I think I have heard them talk about that, indeed, Mark Walker, when he was walking the precincts to get elected [in 2008] told me, the voters asked him “What are you going to do—when you go down to Springfield—about Todd Stroger?” So, I’d kind of like to hear [from Rep. Walker about that].

Gov. Quinn: I’d just like to say about myself. I don’t do anything in this office…that’s directed at any one person. I don’t believe in that. I don’t. People call me names. It’s water off a duck’s back, as far as I’m concerned…I’m not signing this bill to be directed at any one person or elected official…

State Rep. Mark Walker: That’s a very interesting question. As I go door to door, I hear all kinds of opinions expressed. …As far as my personal opinion of Todd Stroger, I’ve never met the man. I understand he is a very nice man. What I talked about with my constituents was what is going on in Cook County and what they talked about was the Stroger tax increase. So, I focused on the financial issues and I focus on what it is doing to the economy in my area. We have a lot of businesses that have moved outside of Cook County. We have a tremendous amount of shoppers that have crossed borders to buy…You can talk to anyone who lives in our area. They will tell you where they go so as not to shop in Cook County. I think that is simply bad policy and that’s why I pushed for this bill.

Monique Garcia [Chicago Tribune]: Do you think that that tax should be repealed…

Rep. Walker: I will leave that up to the [Cook County] commissioners. I understand that they have tried to cut the increase [in the added Cook County one cent sales tax] in half. I understand they have tried to take one per cent away. I am not that deep into the numbers to say which is the right solution.

Jeff Berkowitz: When you say that is bad policy, I thought you meant the tax increase that Todd Stroger pushed for and got. And, now you say, you don’t know if they should repeal it. So, what do you mean by bad policy?

Rep. Walker: Again, what I did say, not what you just said. What I did say was that I support reducing the tax. It’s up to them as to the question whether it should be the full amount or part of it—I leave that up to the commissioners.

Monique Garcia: But, you think that some portion should be—

Rep. Walker: That’s my perspective. But, again, it’s not my job to make that decision.

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, is it that the differential [between the Cook County tax and the tax in surrounding areas] is bad policy and you are not sure how much that differential should be? You said something was bad policy—what is it?

Rep. Walker: I think the tax increase that was passed has been destructive to the economy of my area.

Another reporter: It is undeniable, though, is it not that the driving force behind this move has been the sales tax reform, isn’t this why you’re here? Isn’t this why you’re signing this into law?

Rep. Walker: I would say to that. The driving force behind is, at least from my perspective, is a belief by my constituents that I talk to is that there is a lot wrong in Cook County, that they want to be better represented in Cook County, that there are issues- at least perceived issues of corruption, of mismanagement, of waste, of tax policy and they want to be better represented and I think one way to get them better represented is to give the commissioners more power of a systemic point of view.
Senator Kotowski: …this is the type of initiative that needs to get passed to insure that, as Rep. Walker talked about, when you talk to somebody at their door, they don’t feel as powerless as they have felt in the past. This is a very important empowering piece of legislation; it’s an empowering law and we’re here to try to support it.

Jeff Berkowitz: …it was argued in the media that Speaker Madigan, also Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, was bottling up this effort [to reduce the percentage of Cook County board members required to override a veto by the President] for a long time. For some reason, he relented. So, if it is not about Party [as you suggest], it’s about reform- and it was said that Speaker Madigan was doing that because he did not want to upset Todd Stroger and perhaps the African-American community. Do you have any response to that? Do you think Speaker Madigan was bottling this up and why was he doing that?

Senator Kotowski: I don’t have a window into the workings of all people’s minds…I have a window into my own mind. Any, my own mind is that I worked with my colleague and my teammate Mark Walker on an initiative that we thought was good government. And, we worked very, very hard and we introduced one initiative and this is what happens in Springfield- sometimes something has an opportunity to get passed and you just keep pushing and pushing and pushing until it becomes law. That’s just simply what happened here. We refused to give up and good government is going to happen.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at *************************************************************
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