Briefly…Sue me too

I’m still on hiatus, but I couldn’t resist the title change. Confused, go see Atrios’ posting of a letter from Luskin’s lawyer.

I’ve already had a biblical curse put on me, so what the hell can a trial lawyer do? Satire is protected speech. See you Saturday and thanks again to Armchairpundit

It’s Far Worse Than "Ghost Kids"

The problems with the Chicago’s Department of Human Services run far deeper than the initial report in today’s Sun-Times would indicate. According to friends of mine who run social service agencies, DHS’s mismanagement of Head Start lead the feds to cut off some Head Start funding already, and to threaten to cut off ALL funding unless dramatic steps were taken to fix the problem. According to the Sun-Times:

"Sources said the problem of ‘ghost kids’ at Chicago Youth and Community Services triggered a federal review that uncovered more problems in the city’s Head Start program."

In late September the Bush Administration contacted the Mayor’s office and told them of the looming suspension. The Mayor, grateful to Bush, and not willing to be embarassed by a cut-off, dispatched John Doerrer, his political hatchet-man, to take over and clean the mess up (one of the results being that DHS head, Ray Vazquez, has now been fired). One social service agency executive director told me that the problems have been pervasive for years, and that it shouldn’t have taken a fed investigation to get the Mayor’s attention. But, hey, he’s had other matters to attend to other than Chicago’s poorest kids — like, oh, building a new stadium, a grandiose new park, tearing up an airport….

More On The California Fires

Forgive the parochial nature of this post (and the earlier one on the same subject).

When I am home in San Diego visiting family, I often visit for a respite the mountain town of Julian, which is much like Galena. So this, from today’s San Diego Union-Tribune, breaks my heart:

"Fire crews are waging a frantic battle to save Julian, carving battle lines around the central business district of the mountain community best known for antique shopping and apple pie….Julian was deserted last night. Streets were empty, shops closed. The only vehicles on Main Street were those of sheriff’s deputies."

This one fire has already burned a land area twice the size of the City of Chicago, and destroyed almost 1200 homes. Massive doesn’t even begin to describe it.

A New Poll — And It’s Wide Open

The new Tribune/WGN poll for the U.S. Senate race was interesting. In both races, there is, despite the numbers and the spin from the camps, no clear front-runner. This was, essentially, a name-recognition poll, but for both parties, when pressed to name a preference, huge numbers of respondents (53% dems; 60% repubs) said they were undecided.

The fact that no candidate in the democratic race can claim front-runner status is probably the most important news not highlighted. The assumption for months was that Hynes was the frontrunner. This was based on his having won two state-wide offices, the endorsements of a slew of politicians, his father’s name and operation, and what all believed would be a fundraising juggernaut. But he has not been able to capitalize on these advantages.

What happened? First, hubris rarely wins races; running hard wins races. Second, the field has two, if not three, formidable candidates besides Hynes. Hull has gone from non-existent in name recognition and in voter polls, to 25% name recognition and 6% in preference. He has pulled even with Hynes in downstate polling because of intensive media and campaigning, and has gone on the air with a similar strategy to raise name recognition and preference in Chicago (and his campaigning here, which has been intensive for months, has largely been ignored by the media).

Then there’s Obama. He has done well raising money, and his 4Q numbers should be very good, given that some of Chicago’s heavyweight business leaders are stepping up to raise money for him. He is building a strong volunteer operation, and his supporters are passionate. In name recognition and preference polls he is statistically even or within shouting distance of Hynes.

For Hynes, Obama, and Chico, money will soon become a problem. Hull is set to spend at least another $14 million between now and election day in March. The shifting dynamics of the race have forced Hull’s opponents on the air early, which is very expensive. Just to compete with Hull in the Chicago market, it will cost a candidate $500,000 a week.

In addition, Hull is building a formidable field operation, using money to hire talent. Hynes, Obama, and Chico will have to do the same and faster than originally planned. But if you only have between $1 and $3 millon on hand as of this writing, your options are fairly limited. Hull has the advantage of being able to run the whole field. Hynes, Obama, and Chico have to figure out how to compete in targeted areas.

Joyce Is Apologetic, Or Is He?

So far the Mayor hasn’t left his defensive crouch about the conduct and qualifications of his cronies in the County Building fire. He defended James Joyce yesteday, whose only qualification to be Fire Commissioner is that he is, well, a Joyce.

But as to Joyce’s lame apology yesterday, Eric Zorn has it exactly right in today’s Tribune:

A SORRY SORRY

Let’s take a closer look, shall we, at Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce’s attempt at damage control. Monday:

"If the families of those who died took my words spoken Friday to mean I wouldn’t change the result of this tragic fire, I apologize," began the critical passage.

OK, stop right there.

Joyce was directing the "apology" to those people who so totally and uncharitably misunderstood his words spoken Friday that they believed he wouldn’t change the "result" -six deaths – of the Cook County Administration Building fire.

Are there any such people? Did anyone off or on the record ever imply that Joyce wanted six people to die?

Of course not.

But there are a lot of people who felt Joyce’s words "spoken Friday" were inappropriately defensive, nonchalant and even incoherent:

"I don’t think there’s anything we would do differently," he said during that Friday news conference. "Would we be smarter next time? I’m sure we would be."

One cannot be "smarter next time" yet not do anything differently.

Critical to a graceful apology is the embrace of responsibility.

All apologies that begin with "if" are attempts by those who gave offense to shift at least some of the blame onto those (implicitly oversensitive people) who took it.

And any apology that exaggerates umbrage into vicious hysteria crosses the line into insincere.

Back to Monday: "What I was trying to get across," Joyce went on, "was that each fire is different. What doesn’t change is the method of attacking such a ferocious fire."

But, in fact, the methodology of the fire department here was and remains in question, and what everyone from the families of the victims to those who frequently enter high-rises wants to hear is exactly what went wrong and what Joyce is going to do to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

"We will consider everything we learned that night," he concluded.

That’s a start.

Fires

I was born and raised in San Diego. I remember the fires as unpredictable and frightening — as bad as earthquakes. My family is fine; some friends have been evacuated, but are also safe.

As for anyone going through natural disasters, the victims and those in harm’s way would appreciate your good thoughts and prayers.

Crain’s Weighs In

In all my years in Chicago, I have never seen Crain’s Chicago Business (THE paper of the business community) go after the Mayor and his cronies like this. They promise a fuller account in Monday’s print edition, which I’ll post then.

Question: will Hynes ask Higginbottom to step down from his finance committee until the matter is settled; but if not, has he been neutralized as a fundraiser for Hynes, in any event?

Crain’s Chicago Business

October 25, 2003

Political ties too hot to handle?
Fire fallout hits Daley, Stroger

By Steven R. Strahler

After four tenants died in a 1996 inferno in a housing complex managed by his company, Elzie Higginbottom worried that the tragedy could imperil his access to government contracts, a process lubricated by his political fund-raising efforts.

But the deals kept on flowing. Later that year, in fact, Cook County decided to buy a Loop office building and hire a joint venture co-owned by Mr. Higginbottom’s East Lake Management & Development Corp. to handle the 35-story property, the one where six people perished during a fire earlier this month.

The blaze and questions about building safety precautions, as well as fire-fighting procedures, pose huge political liabilities for Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. They also imperil the pair’s relationship with Mr. Higginbottom and his joint-venture partner on the project, U.S. Equities Realty Inc.

While legal immunity could shield the county and city from costly judgments, no such comfort exists for Mr. Higginbottom and Robert Wislow, another avid political courtier who heads U.S. Equities, a real estate developer, manager and broker.

"The potential is in the tens of millions of dollars, I’m serious," says Frank W. Nagorka, an attorney who has defended the city and other government bodies in fire-related litigation. Adds Terrence Lavin, a personal injury lawyer and president of the Illinois State Bar Assn., "They have no immunities at all. In terms of their exposure, ordinary negligence is available" to the plaintiffs.

As the first lawsuits naming the management company, but not the city or county, were filed last week, Chicago law firm Shefsky & Froelich Ltd., where U.S. Equities is a major client, went on full alert.

Later in the week, however, the assignment was transferred by the building’s insurer, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., to Stephen B. Frew at Kiesler & Berman, according to Shefsky’s James Wilson. Mr. Frew could not be reached immediately for comment.

The political fallout is intensified by the rage of another prominent politico, Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine, who barely escaped and won’t sit still for a whitewash from a promised independent investigation that also would be expected to assess Chicago Fire Department management under Commissioner James Joyce.

Says one source with access to the mayor’s inner circle, "Daley is not going to cover for Higginbottom on this one. Joyce is all right unless they can prove in these trials if there was fire malpractice. If (his bosses) have to throw him under the bus, they’ll throw him under the bus."

Reached at home, Mr. Higginbottom said of the fire at 69 W. Washington, "It was an unfortunate occurrence," but withheld further comment, citing litigation. At his home, Mr. Wislow declined to take a call.

A Profile in Cowardice — Where’s Hizzoner?

This from today’s Sun-Times:

"Mayor Daley spent the week promising the victims’ families a full account of the Fire Department’s performance, but he was a no-show at Friday’s news conference. Joyce was left to sink or swim by a mayor who, by all accounts, is furious about what happened at the Cook County Administration Building."

Yeah right. Is it possible he didn’t show because for the first time in his tenure he and his cronies are actually being hammered for stupidity and negligence?

Can anyone imagine, say, Rudy Giuliani allowing a press conference of this importance to go on without his presence?

The Pressure Builds And Stroger Defends His Panel

Apparently stung by Patrick Murphy’s comments that he lacks "backbone," Blago decided to step in yesterday and appoint his own commission to investigate last Friday’s County Building fire. Stroger also got around yesterday to naming a commission.

When asked whether any of Stroger’s commission had political or other ties to him, this was his answer (from today’s Sun-Times): "When asked what personal or political connections he has to the panel members, Stroger evaded the question, saying, ‘Cousins is black and I’m black. Strayhorn is black and I’m black. But [he is] not quite as black as Cousins and me because Strayhorn is a brown-skinned black.’"

What? Has cronyism and nepotism gotten so bad in Chicago that the only way Stroger can defend the qualifications of a commission as important as this is to talk about the pigmentation of their skin. Actually, I believe that the pressure for accountability in this incident (which is, really, and accumulation of frustration over many similar incidents) is beginning to take its toll. Stroger, Daley, Blago, et. al. are just not used to having to answer tough, relentless questions, which is leading them to act, in the words of Patrick Murphy, like "Ernie, Bert and the Cookie Monster, these politicians."

Hynes Gets The Endorsement Of Two Gay Electeds

When Archpundit passed this site to me for a few weeks, he noted that blogs were, basically, vanity sites. I would like to think that my posting today resulted in the press release out of Hynes’s campaign, but even I am not that vain.

That said, here is the openning paragraph of their release:

"Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes received the endorsement today of the state’s leading, openly gay, progressive elected officials, State Representative Larry McKeon (D-13th) and Alderman Tom Tunney (D-44th)."

Now this only makes one of my key points: that Hynes would be able to access the support of the GLBT party regulars. McKeon has been a member of the House for many years, and Tunney is in his first year as an alderman, being tapped by the Mayor, only after two other straight candidates said no to the job. Tunney’s slating came after an openly gay lawyer and neighborhood activist, who is not a party regular — that is, who is independent of the Mayor — pushed the long-time straight alderman of the 44th Ward, which includes the geographic heart of the GLBT community in Chicago, out of the race. Neither Mckeon nor Tunney have ever made waves or backed an independent running in Chicago.

These endoresments are significant, however, particularly if Hynes follows through with a major push for GLBT votes. What he can’t do is rely on McKeon or Tunney for get-out-the-vote, because neither have field operations. But these endoresments can be leveraged in operations designed to get out GLBT voters.

Finally, a bit of free advice: although in some peoples’ political world the mayor of Oak Park, or city council people from Oak Park and Wheeling, or Cook County judges may not be "leading" figures, there are openly gay and lesbian electeds in these posts, so I would suggest that the Hynes’s campaign tread lightly with the adjectives.

The GLBT Community And The Senate Race

One of the most interesting dynamics to emerge in the Democrat primary for Senate in Illinois is the shake out of support in the GLBT community. This is important because, well, the gays vote like hell.

First, so that the Hynes partisans who read this don’t go nuts, let’s stipulate a few things.

Dan Hynes has a solid history of building a profile in the GLBT community in Chicago and has strong name recognition. He supported the passage of HB101 and SB101, which would have added sexual orientation to the Illinois Human Rights Act. He is supported by Mike Bauer, a prominent GLBT politico, which means that Hynes, through Bauer, could attract the support of many of the GLBT party regulars. I don’t doubt that on issues important to the GLBT community that come before the Congress, Hynes would do the right thing.

That said, much more is going on. Rumblings are beginning to be heard throughout the community about Hynes’ downstate strategy, which involves largely aligning himself with the Poshard-wing of the party, which has a long history of virulent anti-gay positions. Indeed, the lack of support from these downstate democrats has been central to keeping the Illinois Human Rights Act from being amended. In addition, as the race has unfolded, Hynes has been virtually absent from the GLBT community. He made a showing on Pride Day, but didn’t do much before and hasn’t done much since. Hynes is now being openly questioned in the community and the gay press about how much he really has done over the years for the GLBT community, and whether he has been happy to have GLBT support only when, and if, it has suited him. Fair or not, the perception among many in the GLBT community is that Hynes would rather not, for now, at least, be seen or heard.

On the other hand, Hull and Obama have made significant strides in the community. The word is that Obama has the support of Alicia Obando, openly gay Alderman Tom Tunney’s right hand in the lakefront’s 44th Ward office. Obama has been holding receptions and house parties in the community and talking up his substantial support over the years of GLBT issues, on which he is extraordinarily thoughtful, articulate, and passionate. He is a co-sponsor of SB101, has helped organize lobbying for the bill, and compares the fight for GLBT rights with the struggle for black civil rights. Obama has been able to attract a number of GLBT volunteers, who add to the numbers already working hard for him. He has received very favorable coverage in the Chicago Free Press, the most widely read GLBT paper in Chicago.

Hull, too, has been working hard in the community. Hull has the support of Vernita Gray, the most prominent African-American GLBT activist and a member of State’s Attorney Dick Devine’s staff. Hull also has the support of Ellen Myers, from Jesse White’s office, Mike McHale, also from Devine’s office and the president of Equality Illinois. Hull has been talking up in the community his support of women’s issues over his life-time, his active philanthropic support of GLBT causes, and his understanding and support of GLBT issues. Hull has also held numerous receptions in the community: for example, he underwrote the reception on the first day of the Cook County Domestic Partner’s Registry and was the only candidate to attend; and he held a party on Halsted in the heart of the GLBT community on National Coming Out Day that attracted over 200 people. The Chicago Free Press has also written very favorably about him.

The net result of their work and the publicity is that within the GLBT community, which makes up a significant block of the liberal lakefront voters, Hull and Obama are building strong "buzz" and volunteer support, which could translate into impressive, and much needed electoral results for both.

A Buried Tidbit

In an article in today’s Sun-Times that includes, in part, reporting on James Joyce’s own investigation into last Friday’s County Building fire, this little bit of information is revealed:

The commander of the downtown fire district, Thomas Donnellan, was off-duty at the time, but defends firefighters for their work. So far, typical.

But then, according to the Sun-Times: "Donnellan is Joyce’s brother-in-law, but Fire Department spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said the relationship would not affect Joyce’s investigation."

His brother-in-law?!!! And Joyce can be impartial about his brother-in-law? Oh, please. This web of cronyism and nepotism is so tangled that no one should believe a word of any investigation, unless the investigators are clearly independent of the Mayor and the County Board.

The Pressure Is On

In a state where cronyism and nepotism in politics is almost an art form, it is always gratifying to see the inner-circle under intense pressure for their stupidity, if not negligence.

Yesterday the first lawsuit was filed against the management of the County Building that burned last Friday, which includes Elzie Higginbottom. When asked whether an independent inquiry that would focus on Higginbottom would be impartial, John Stroger almost had a stroke, saying "I don’t think Mr. Higginbottom has done any more for me than many citizens have done." That doesn’t even pass the laugh test. He then went on to say that he didn’t "care who was affected." Yeah right. If they have to, Stroger and Daley will throw Higginbottom over the side because, for once, the media and those representing the unfortunate workers who died are not letting the matter drop. But if they can protect him and others involved in this disaster, history tells us they will.

Also, Patrick Murphy keeps at it, saying yesterday that it amounts to almost "crimial negligence" that management sent employees into stairwells they knew were not pressurized, and that the County didn’t spend less than $1.5 million to add sprinklers when the retrofit was done. As I noted yesterday, Murphy is like a terrier with a bone. If he can finally crack the wall that protects the cronies and the relatives who benefit from far too much in this city and state with little or no accountability, then he will be a Profile in Courage.

At some point, I hope Mayor Daley, Mr. Stroger, and James Joyce all come before the media and face the really tough questions being asked.

Murphy’s Relentless Hammering

Patrick Murphy deserves enormous credit for not letting anyone off the hook for Friday’s County Building fire disaster. He said he didn’t care much about whether the mayor’s "cronies" were involved in the retrofit of the building, and he called the governor a politician in "search of a backbone" for saying the matter was none of his business. His day of hammering now means that Mayor Daley is "open" to an independent investigaion.

Open? How about demanding one Mr. Mayor?

But the tangle gets thicker and thicker. Word comes yesterday that one of the partners in the building’s management is Elzie Higginbottom, a long-time friend of Daley and Stroger (and a party fundraiser leading Dan Hynes’s fundraising effort). Stroger said yesterday (from today’s Sun-Times):

Stroger on Monday defended Elzie Higginbottom, a friend of both Daley’s and Stroger’s and owner of one of two companies in the joint venture that manages the county administration building. Stroger said it is not clear management made the controversial call to evacuate the whole building — sending people into the smoky stairwells.

"The management of that building had nothing to do with the fire in that building," Stroger said.

Just like E2, if a friend of the powers-that-be is involved, circle the wagons right away. What could Stroger know at this point? Nothing. And, yes, management didn’t start the fire. But did they handle the evacuation properly? Was the building up to code? Why were the stairwell doors locked? That is why Murphy wants an independent investigation, so that everyone, friends and foes alike, will have to answer tough questions and, if necessary, be held accountable.

Keep hammering Mr. Murphy.

The Mayor and Disasters

One of the confounding aspects of the Daley administration is its ability to dodge reponsibility for crises in which serious loss of lives occur. Most of the horrific incidents under his tenure involved City or County (which he controls, despite the window dressing of independence) agencies or staff making decisions that at least were part of the scenario that led to the disasters.

Columnist Mark Brown had it exactly right in yesterday’s Sun-Times when he asked about Friday’s County building fire:

"Excuse me, but where was the indignation? Where was the pain? Where was Mayor Daley’s anger?

This was a terribly stupid way for six people to have to died in this day and age, right up there with the senselessness of the E2 nightclub disaster and the Lincoln Park porch collapse. It didn’t have to happen"

And I would add the great Heat Wave of 1994.

It shouldn’t be left to Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, who lost three staff members in the fire to say (from today’s Sun-Times) that "he wants an independent inquiry board to look into the evacuation and response and takes issue with Mayor Daley’s and Fire Commissioner James Joyce’s contention that nothing went wrong in the response to the fire."

The Mayor always runs to the cover of "nothing went wrong" in the face of disaster. He has never, to my knowledge, expressed any outrage at or held accountable City or County officials for the deaths that occured on his watch that involved city inspectors, emergency response departments or teams, or anyone else.

Could it be that it is beacuse many of the departments where these decisions were made are run by political hacks instead of true professionals. Take James Joyce: he is a member of the Joyce clan that is this/close to the Daleys (relative Jeremiah being one of Daley’s closest political confidants and a regular beneficiary of the City’s largesse). I know Joyce. He is a nice man, but his skill runs to doing only what the Mayor says when the Mayor wants.

I hope that the local press stays on this for months, hammers Daley hard, and brings it up again and again during the next election — a term in Chicago’s mayoral politics I use lightly.