Monday, October 29, 2012

The Case of the Missing Congressman

Election 2012 is almost at an end with early voters heading to the polls and the rest of the nation soon to follow on November 6.  Many of you I'm sure will draw a sigh of relief as the political commercials disappear from your evening television line up and commutes to work will no longer include shaking hands with some random politician who "would really appreciate your vote."

Unfortunately for voters in Chicago's 2nd Congressional District, the drama will not end on November 6.  You see, they have a congressman, but he is missing in action.

That congressman is Jesse Jackson Jr., the oldest son of Black civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr.  Since early this summer, Jackson Jr. has been on medical leave from the U.S. House of Representatives.  Rumors have circulated as to the nature of his illness.  It was only recently that family members hinted that Jackson Jr. was suffering from bi-polar depression and general "exhaustion."  Congressman Jackson has only spoken once on his condition, confirming this month that he is "not well." 

News reporters, along with the general public, have been mystified by the Congressman's silence on his condition.  It has led many to speculate that Congressman Jackson is preparing himself for a possible federal indictment on corruption charges.

Jackson's behavior has been particularly mystifying given the recent news stories surrounding another Illinois legislator, Senator Mark Kirk.  Having suffered a stroke, Kirk's press team was quick to report the legislator's illness and provide regular updates on his progress.  This has led to at least a greater appearance of transparency.  It also probably makes Senator Kirk's constituents more likely to remain patient as he has been absent from congress for nearly a year.

The mystery surrounding Jackson Jr.'s illness can't help but remind Chicagoans less of Mark Kirk or Arizona congresswoman Gabriel Giffords forced absences from the Congress than of Cook County Board President John Stroger's mysterious absence from office around the time of the 2006 primary election.

Suffering from a stroke, Stroger nonetheless carried the Democratic primary as his staff concealed from voters the extent of his illness.  Ultimately unable to finish his term, Stroger had his son (Todd Stroger) placed on the ticket in his place while his friend Bobbi Steele finished out John Stroger's term.

Nepotism was clearly at play in the Stroger family closet drama.  It is less clear what Jackson Jr.'s political play might be.

If Jackson were really the public servant that he claims to be for members of the Illinois 2nd Congressional District, he would do the right thing.  He would offer to step down immediately. This would not only give Jackson the time he needs to recover but also would give his constituents the representation they deserve.

You're not a basketball player Congressman Jackson.  Step down and let someone else serve your district.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Seller's Remorse

"Are you feeling alright King Richard?"  That's what Chicagoans should have been asking former Mayor Richard M. Daley back in January 2009 when he signed a 75 year lease turning Chicago's parking meters over to a consortium of private investors calling themselves Chicago Parking Meters L.L.C.

In return for this lease, Chicago received a one time cash infusion of $1.2 Billion dollars.  On the surface this seemed like a good deal.  A private company would take on the burden of managing the city's extensive network of parking meters and Chicago would obtain a substantial "rainy day" fund. But then problems started popping up thick and fast.

The first of these was the infamous "quarter jams" that made the older coin operated meters malfunction and led to unnecessary tickets.  Since they are a private company, Chicago Parking Meters raised the hourly rates for parking around the city (in some locations by as much as 50%).  This required more quarters for each person who parked in the space and caused the meter box to fill up with coins faster than it could be emptied.

Then came the "pay and display" boxes that allowed payment by credit card but whose buttons frequently jammed in Chicago's cold weather and whose display screens were often impossible to read.

Once these kinks were ironed out, the next problem was the portion of the lease requiring the city to pay Chicago Parking Meters whenever an event closed a city street or city parking lot with meters.

The grumbling hasn't stopped since the ink dried on King Richard's deal, but little (we thought) could be done.  Until now.

Today "Il Duce" (a.k.a. Mayor Rahm Emanuel) ordered an audit of the parking meter lease.  Emanuel is hoping to use this audit to avoid paying Chicago Parking Meters L.L.C. the $50 Million dollars in lost fees that C.P.M. says the city owes them and their investors.

Whether Il Duce's power play works or not, you have to give him credit for being ballsy.  Now that most of the lease money is spent, it seems like he's going to not only contest the street closure fees C.P.M. claims by right of the lease but also try to find a way out of the lease.

If he fails and can't find a way to spin that failure (like his horribly mismanaged performance during the teacher's strike), then he's a schmuck from Wilmette.  If he succeeds, he just might make us forget his predecessor--the King who took leave of his senses and sold our parking to the highest bidder.

What a town!  Let's hope the Mayor can out-hustle the hustlers.