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The [Tuesday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes

This just in: Santa's Got The Swine.

In Other Swine News
A lot of reaction to my column yesterday about NBC killing posts about Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels and the late Chicago school board chairman Michael Scott.

Among the local blog links: This interview with Justin Kaufmann of WBEZ/Vocalo.

We'll provide a full round-up of links at week's end in This Week In The Beachwood, our free e-mail newsletter that goes out every Friday morning. You can subscribe to it by entering your e-mail address in the appropriate box over there on the right rail, under the search bar.

And for the curious, I haven't heard a word - nor seen a comment - from NBC or Tribune Company, even as the story as spread through the blogosphere.


UPDATE 9:50 A.M.: I spoke too soon. Michael Miner has this from Toni Falvo, vice president for research, programming, and the press. "This was an internal editorial decision made by the local team in Chicago."

If Falvo is referring to the decision to kill the Michael Scott post in question, Falvo is right as far as I know. But if Falvo is referring to the Randy Michaels post which is the crux of the whole drama, it's blatantly false. I was told the decision was ultimately made by the president of NBC Universal's local media division, John Wallace.


Finally, thanks to everyone who has sent notes of support. It means a lot.

County Lines
Chicago Tonight last night had the four Democratic candidates for Cook County board president on for a panel discussion and I took a few notes. Mostly, though, I was struck by the feeling I had that I held Terry O'Brien and Dorothy Brown in even lower esteem than Todd Stroger. The word "posers" came to mind. Both spouted easy, if unfounded answers to the county's knotty problems, and at times Stroger seemed to fact-check them back into place. Brown in particular was embarrassingly pushy in making sure she got ample air time to repeat herself - over and over. Preckwinkle often (rightly) had that look she so often gets when she can't quite believe the idiocy surrounding her. She was also unabashed. She opened with this:

"When the voters think about county government, they think about waste, fraud and incompetence."

And when Stroger spoke, she looked him in the eye and took it in. I think I detected incredulousness. But no meanness. She's an adult.

She also refused to play simplistic media games. When moderator Eddie Arruza asked what one issue the campaign boiled down to, she said: "I wouldn't boil it down to one issue." Then she listed the main - and persuasive - planks of her platform.

Now, let me be clear: I'm not shilling for Preckwinkle. But she's obviously the best candidate in the field. She's smart, competent, and not full of shit. I'm not thrilled with her vote supporting the Olympic bid, and other moves seemingly designed to court the mayor in return for his endorsement. In fact, I'm bothered most by Preckwinkle's unwillingness over the years to more directly challenge the mayor even as she - perhaps more than anyone on the council - has correctly diagnosed many of the administration's problems.

But she's a cut above most pols in town, and while she might speak too carefully at times, if you pay attention she's still telling the truth.

Anyway, to continue, O'Brien said the county's most pressing issue is the sales tax. Really? The half-a-penny sales tax? Each candidate pledges to roll that back, but O'Brien says he's the only one who will do it right away.

Again, I like Preckwinkle's answer better: She will phase it out as she reconfigures the county's budget and makes up for the loss of revenue.

Brown said the most pressing issue is "properly funding the county." Huh?

She promised to find additional revenue without raising taxes, and claimed to have done so in the clerk of the circuit court's office to the tune of $187 million. I haven't had time to fact-check.

Brown promised to "streamline county government through budgeting . . . find redundancies . . . yada yada yada." And she would create a county budget review commission made up of citizens. That has boondoggle written all over it.

"What the county really is up against is how do we keep our services at the same level they are at today . . . while not spending more money," Stroger said, not unreasonably.


Arruza asked O'Brien how he would make up the revenue loss from scaling back the sales tax. "Let's go back eight months," O'Brien said. Let's not, I muttered to myself.

O'Brien then talked about better collection of open receivables - to the tune of $300 million - in the county health care system. Somehow I don't think that's the answer.

"You can talk about trying to collect old bills," Preckwinkle said, "but the fact of the matter is that's not going to do it."

Stroger said his administration has already tightened up collections considerably.

Brown said she would create a grants research and applications department to after federal money not currently being sought out. Preckwinkle said her understanding was that the county is only five percent funded - compared to one-third for the city - from state and federal grants because "the county hasn't wanted to subject itself to the scrutiny of the funders."

"That's just untrue," Stroger said, adding in a rebuttal to Brown that the county already had a grants office (or at least an administrator, I wasn't clear)

Brown also talked about revenue gains to be had by changing laws. I wasn't quite clear on what this was about, but she said she found $10.8 million for the sheriff's office by looking at an ordinance that was "not properly implemented." She later said she saved or raised (again, she wasn't clear) money by going to Springfield and getting a law on document storage changed that the county had been funding with a motor fuel tax. She said she brought in $64 million in state money - which, of course, is still taxpayer money. And some idea she got at a conference brought in $10 milion. Fact-checks to come.

Finally, Brown proposed an early retirement program and intergovernmental joint purchasing.

Stroger said the county already had a consolidated purchasing process; not sure if by "intergovernmentaI purchasing" Brown would attempt to work with, say, the city of Chicago.

O'Brien also talked about consolidating county purchasing; Preckwinkle said he keeps saying that but won't say how much money could be saved, and besides that, it would have to be done over time and that's why an immediate repeal of the remaining half-cent sales tax increase is a bad idea; the county needs to finally have some long-range planning.

Stroger rightly pointed out that early retirement programs cost a lot of money up front - and sometimes down the road too.

Preckwinkle said she's the only candidate who wants to make permanent the independence of the health care system to "separate it from the patronage and political influence that have damaged them in the past."


"Start with me now," Brown demanded at the end of the segment. You would think she had something important to say. No.

"I'm going to find additional tax revenue, I've talked about this over and over again." Yes. On this very show.

"I'm running on a record that these people are just talking about," O'Brien said. Huh. Pretty bold for a head of the water reclamation district whose side business as a consultant has plenty of lucrative government contracts.

And then shots at Daley:

"We do privatize a lot of things but you do have to be careful," Stroger said, "or you get things like the parking meters.

"No (privatization, not right off the bat," Preckwinkle said. She then talked about not even knowing in her ward who was responsible for curb cuts and where to go with complaints or to ask for something to get done.

"I'm not in favor of privatization," Brown said, repeating what Preckwinkle just said about accountability.

We tried it at water rec and it doesn't work," O'Brien said.


Brown denied a report that a grand jury was probing allegations that her campaign used Earnfare employees to seek petition signatures. "That's a political placement," she said, apparently referring to the placement of the item in Sneed's column and this well-known phenomenon. "My understanding is there's no grand jury probe."

I take no sides between this pair of winners.


The Beachwood Tip Line: Placement.


Posted on December 22, 2009

MUSIC - Who's Next In Chicago Rap.
TV - Tribune-Nexstar Deal Is Bad News.
POLITICS - Big Soda Hates You.
SPORTS - The Ex-Cub Factor.

BOOKS - Wright Brothers, Wrong Story!

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Bad News About Human Nature.

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