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The [Tuesday] Papers

The big news over the weekend in Illinois politics was the election of Oak Park Democrat Don Harmon to the state senate presidency, replacing the retiring John Cullerton.

Harmon defeated Maywood Democrat Kimberly Lightford. Lightford was (and remains) the senate majority leader. Harmon had been the assistant majority leader, so in a sense he leaped over his colleague to get the top job.



I must confess, I didn't know (Son of) Emil Jones had the power to be a player. But apparently he was the one who brought the votes over to Harmon in the second round of voting to crown him king.

According to Tina Sfondeles at the Sun-Times, Jones may have been exercising a grudge with layers of irony that put the white guy in over the black gal.

Kimberly Lightford's vote for a white candidate for Illinois Senate president over a fellow African American politician - 11 years ago - may have helped cost her this year's Senate president's job on Sunday.

After hours of tense, behind-the-scenes negotiations between lawmakers on Sunday, Lightford lost out to Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who will replace retiring Senate President John Cullerton.

Publicly, party leaders made a show of unity. Lightford, who is Senate majority leader, hugged Harmon on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon as she nominated him to become the next Senate president. Harmon, who is white, was elected unanimously after hours of negotiations.

But afterward, accusations flew of personal betrayal, and long-time simmering feuds bubbled over.

Lightford, D-Maywood, blamed former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., and his son, Emil Jones III, who is currently in the Senate, for her loss. She would have been the first female black Senate president. She thinks their opposition may stem from an 11-year old grudge.

In 2009, Lightford voted for Cullerton, the white candidate, for Senate president, over Sen. James Clayborne Jr., who is black.

Lightford claims Jones III, D-Chicago, acted as a double agent, calling what he did a personal betrayal. Lightford claimed the elder Jones, 84, also helped to steer votes away from her, a claim he denied to the Sun-Times on Sunday.

Now, just because Lightfood suspects she was "betrayed" doesn't mean she was. Doesn't mean she wasn't, either.

For example:

Reached Sunday night, the elder Jones denied he got involved in the race or that his son voted for Harmon over bad blood.

But he brought up Lightford's vote for a white candidate over a black one in the 2009 Senate president election.

"I don't know how you can come back and say I want the black support when you had that opportunity to support the black and you didn't," the elder Jones said.

So we supported the white guy, just like she did back then!

"Reached Sunday evening, Jones III said he told Lightford on Friday night he would support Harmon. He also told her he would resign as co-chair of the Illinois Senate Black Caucus."

Why resign from the caucus? Because he no longer represents black interests?

Jones III denied that he voted for Harmon over any bad blood.

"Leader Lightford stated that she had certain votes and me reaching out to those members directly, they told me otherwise," Jones III said.

Jones III downplayed that he won't get a leadership post, despite helping bring votes to Harmon.

As for Lightford's claims of payback, Jones III suggested Lightford hadn't been straight with him: "A friend would not let you go down on a sinking ship. If your ship is sinking and you know it's sinking, let your friend know."

I don't know what this means. Her ship was sinking and she should've reached out to him? Didn't she?


What's sad, of course, is that Jones didn't offer up, at least in this account (or the reporter didn't ask for), his supposed real reason for supporting Harmon. If it wasn't bad blood, what was it?


And then:


To wit:

"State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, is one of the most powerful people in Springfield, talked about as a possible future president of the Illinois Senate," the Sun-Times reported in March 2017.

"He's also a partner in a Chicago law firm that's been paid more than $9 million in the past five years for doing legal work for state agencies, government workers' pension funds and local governments whose citizens he represents in the Senate, a Chicago Sun-Times examination has found.

"That covers work done for more than 20 government bodies, including the city of Chicago, Cook County, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier."

Look, public officials should not be allowed to have side jobs - or to make their elected offices their side job. Or to essentially combine them into a racket. It's that simple.

Don't like the salary? Don't run.


"The firm - Burke Burns & Pinelli - has done work for agencies whose budgets Harmon votes on, including the Illinois Department of Transportation, and government pension funds regulated by Harmon and his fellow legislators, as well as the village of Rosemont, one of the suburbs he represents in the Illinois Senate, according to records and interviews.

"His firm also worked on applications for millions of dollars in five state grants that went to Cinespace Chicago Film Studios - where TV shows including Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire are shot. The state money included a $10 million grant that Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered the West Side studio to repay in 2015 after the Sun-Times reported that the money was supposed to buy property for an expansion, but the land owners said they weren't going to sell."

Click through to read the rest if you want; it's a very familiar script to those who follow Illinois politics.


"Mary Patricia Burns, the majority owner of the law firm, didn't respond to a call and emails seeking comment."

If Harmon derived no financial benefit from the firm's dealings with government agencies - and the firm didn't derive benefit from Harmon's position - why would Burns be afraid to talk? Defend your guy!


"Harmon - who once worked as deputy legal counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago - was elected to the state Senate in 2002. At the time, he was a lawyer with the firm Mayer Brown LLP, where he 'practiced corporate banking and municipal law,' according to the online biography on his law firm's website. In 2005, he joined his current firm, where he is one of seven partners but says he 'has no ownership interest.'

"As president pro tempore of the Illinois Senate, Harmon is among the top leaders of the legislative chamber, whose members are part-time and typically also hold other jobs. Harmon's yearly pay as a state senator is $78,163.

"He says his law firm salary is less than that but won't say how much he makes."

That doesn't sound right.

"Asked whether he gets any additional compensation beside salary, Harmon would say only that his total pay from Burke Burns & Pinelli is less than the governor's $177,412-a-year salary - the cap on his pay under Illinois ethics law because his firm gets state business."



"Eric Herman, a spokesman for Cinespace, says Burke Burns & Pinelli was hired in 2010 'because they have a great reputation.'"

Perhaps because they employed the state senate's future president!

Eric Herman is a former Sun-Times reporter, and therefore Today's Worst Person in Illinois.


I looked through the Beachwood vault and was surprised to find that Lightford's name has never appeared in these pages. I thought for sure I had dinged her for ridiculous behavior typical of someone holding her spot in the political universe, but no.

Harmon, on the other hand, is a different story.

From December 17, 2009:

Rich Miller and his Capitol Fax Blog readers have selected Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) as the state's best legislator.

"John Cullerton's ascension to the Senate Presidency has propelled Harmon into the upper echelons of legislative power," Miller writes. "He is a likely future Senate President himself. Harmon was an overwhelming favorite in the nominations. This one was representative . . . "

Smart, hardworking, and not an ideologue.

You mean this Don Harmon?

"Back on February 13, state rep Kevin Joyce introduced a bill to expand the kinds of materials open to the public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. On April 3 that bill passed the house and was sent to the senate, where it sat in committee for weeks. Legislators tell me that during that time city lobbyists got in touch with their allies in the senate, and on May 18 Senator Don Harmon gutted the bill, removing the language about the FOIA and adding an amendment that extended the life of the four Chicago TIF districts: Madden/Wells, Roosevelt/Racine, Stony Island/Burnside, and Englewood Mall. None of these fall into Harmon's legislative district.

"Harmon - who didn't return calls for this story - is from Oak Park, whose TIF policies seem to be almost as nutty as Chicago's, hard as that is to believe. (Hardly a week goes by without some Oak Parker calling and asking me to write about one TIF debacle or another.)"


By the way, that same Beachwood column led with this:

"A consulting firm headed by former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr.'s stepson John Sterling has been paid more than $787,000 under a Cook County contract funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, despite failing to provide required weekly reports - for 21 months," Carol Marin and Don Moseley report.

"Retired Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, the political godfather of President Obama, is mounting a formidable effort to re-elect embattled Cook County Board President Todd Stroger," Sneed reports.

Just sayin'.


From January 20, 2014:

"Leading legislative fauxgressive Don Harmon - once voted the state's best legislator by Rich Miller and his Capitol Fax readers - also comes out pretty stinky.

"In 2009, state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) was among the members of the General Assembly to vote to give the United Neighborhood Organization an unprecedented $98 million state grant to build charter schools in Chicago," the BGA reports.

"But UNO wasn't the only group that ended up benefiting from the grant, which was part of a massive capital spending bill that provided money to infrastructure projects across the state.

"Harmon's law firm did, too - collecting at least $35,000 for legal work it subsequently performed for UNO, according to copies of invoices and payment records obtained from the State of Illinois.

"What's more, the Better Government Association found the firm, Burke Burns & Pinelli, had done legal work for UNO prior to Harmon's June 2009 vote.

"This means Harmon not only voted on a measure ultimately benefiting his firm, he also voted on a measure benefiting a past (and continuing) client of his law firm."

There's a lot more there, so click through. After all, the piece is called "UNO, Law Firm In Harmony."


So I had to chuckle when I saw this Crain's headline: "Can This Oak Park lawyer Tame Springfield's Culture Of Corruption?"

Only if he starts with himself!


P.S.: Getting far less attention than the ministrations of Jones et al:

"Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, is the new Senate president, thanks, in large part, to a group of moderate suburban and downstate Democrats who quietly supported him in his monthslong rise to the head of the chamber," Capitol News Illinois reports.

"The group, calling itself the 'X Caucus' is made up of 'approximately 10 to 12' members depending on the issue, said Democratic Tinley Park Sen. Michael Hastings."


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Posted on January 21, 2020

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