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Major Road Repair Funding Coming to North Shore April 15, 2009

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Initial phase of statewide capital plan aids local “shovel-ready” projects 

Evanston, IL – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) today announced that an infusion of more than $20 million in new state and federal funding will be used to repair crumbling North Shore roads as part of a jobs and revitalization package approved by Illinois lawmakers and Governor Quinn late last week.

The Senate unanimously passed the multi-billion-dollar capital infrastructure initiative, which is the first installment of an anticipated $26 billion package for roads, bridges, mass transit and passenger and freight rail. The package will send thousands of residents back to work while capturing billions of dollars in federal assistance.

“This revitalization package will give our communities and our state a necessary investment of new state and federal stimulus funding and create more jobs to improve our crumbling infrastructure,” Schoenberg said. “Since our state also has a very high unemployment rate right now and we need to get our residents sustainable jobs as soon as possible.”

Schoenberg said all of the projects in his North Shore involve resurfacing roads, but there will be patch work done at various locations in north suburban Cook County as well.

The projects in Senator Schoenberg’s North Shore district include:

• Central Street (Evanston) – McDaniel Ave to Ashland Ave & Ashbury Ave to Sherman Ave – resurfacing, $860,000
• Forest Way Drive (Winnetka) – Dundee Road to Willow Road– resurfacing, $1,200,000
• Golf Road/Simpson Street/Emerson Street (Skokie) – Gross Point Road to McCormick Blvd – resurfacing, $1,320,000
• Gross Point Road (Skokie/Evanston) – Central St to Golf Road – resurfacing, $530,000
• Ridge Road (Wilmette/Winnetka) – Winnetka Road to Forest Ave & south of Schiller Ave to Wilmette Ave – resurfacing, $670,000
• Sheridan Road/South Boulevard (Evanston) – South Blvd to Juneway Terrace & Chicago Ave to Sheridan Road – resurfacing, $900,000
• Sheridan Road (East Rogers Park) – North of Juneway Terrace to Arthur Ave – resurfacing, $3,300,000
• Willow Road (Glenview) – Landwehr Road to C&NW Rail Road – resurfacing, $1,325,000
• Willow Road (Glenview) – SOO Rail Road to east of IL 43 – resurfacing, $925,000
• US-41/Skokie Road (Wilmette) – Central Ave to Old Orchard Road – resurfacing, $745,000
• US-41/IL 50/Skokie Road/Cicero Ave (Skokie) – Foster Street to Tuohy Ave – resurfacing, $3,010,000
• Dempster Street (Skokie/Evanston) – US-41 to McCormick Blvd & Chicago Ave to Judson Ave – resurfacing, $1,666,000

These “shovel-ready” projects will be part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) bid-letting scheduled for May 23, 2009. For desperately-needed pothole repairs in area communities, construction crews in some instances will begin work on the projects as early as the end of the month.

Schoenberg cautioned that the long-overdue roadwork may cause some inconvenience for area motorists, it also means that repairs to these major thoroughfares is finally being addressed. He added that sound infrastructure and the accompanying job creation will greatly benefit the area’s economy.

The legislative package was passed by the House and signed into law by Governor Quinn late last week.


Tobacco tax boost keeps health care accessible April 13, 2009

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Not surprisingly, there’s been some pushback against my legislation to increase Illinois’ cigarette tax an additional $ .50 per pack the first year and another $.50  per pack the next year . The underlying rationale behind the plan is two-fold: First, the proceeds of the increase will go exclusively into a fund that will leverage additional matching federal funds to pay outstanding Medicaid-based healthcare expenses. Assuming that Illinois meets the criteria of the federal stimulus initiative of reducing its payment cycle to 30 days for providers of Medicaid-reimbursable healthcare services, e.g., hospitals, nursing homes, community-based agencies serving the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, every $1.00 earmarked to meeting our state’s Medicaid obligations has an actual value of $2.50 over the next couple of budget years.

Consequently, over the next two fiscal years the proposed cigarette tax increase will generate over $1 billion towards paying our outstanding healthcare bills. That calculation inherently acknowledges a drop in tax revenues the second year of the tobacco tax increase as the result of reduced usage, which is a behavior that is the second objective of the cigarette tax increase. Supporters of this proposal like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago effectively argue that each 10 percent price increase reduces youth smoking rates by 6.5 percent, adult smoking rates by 2 percent and total consumption of tobacco by 4 percent. According to recent estimates by the advocates, an estimated 16,600 Illinois residents die from smoking-related diseases each year, and smoking is linked to $4 billion in annual health-care costs and $1.5 billion in Medicaid costs in Illinois.

Those are numbers that simply can’t be shuffled off the state’s healthcare ledger without acknowledgement. There is indeed a tangible financial cost to tobacco-related illness, one which we all end up paying.

Keep an eye on Senate Bill 44.  It took two tries to pass the Senate with nary a vote to spare; the battle now moves to the House.

Feedback: Take One April 13, 2009

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On my Facebook page yesterday, I jokingly wondered aloud where my career might have gone had I played pickup hoops in the mornings in Springfield  with a famous former Senate colleague instead of panting up and down the court at the Department of Corrections gym during the night shift.

While I’m sure at some point the future POTUS and I did share the court once or twice during our tenure together at the State Capitol, I can’t say it was a memorable experience — unlike some other encounters that I’ll always remember during our time together in the Illinois General Assembly. 

Nonetheless, Barack Obama had made some indelible impressions on folks. In a recent email to my listserv, I asked people to share their favorite personal experiences about President Barack Obama.

Here are some excerpts from the many replies:

I first heard Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention and it was a stirring speech.  I was enamored but, I thought that this country was ready for an African America as president.

A Couple of years ago, he was the keynote speaker at the northwestern graduation. In person he was even more impressive and he gave me/us the message of hope and change we were looking for. He was truly an inspiring speaker and portrayed an humble family man who has come up working hard and has hopes to change the way the nation was going.

The republicans went from having a budget surplus and the world’s sympathy for us after 9-11 to a wrecked economy and a sheer arrogance to world opinion. They went to war on faulty or non-existant intelligence and conducted it with amazing ineptitude.

Thanks,for doing a wonderful job and I hope with your help Barack Obama can make a difference and restore Americans role as a Democratic Leader and restart diplomacy and end these costly wars.

– Kailas


A personal story about Barack Obama;  Sometime during the Obama run for the Illinois Senate, I was invited to attend a small coffee in Winnetka for him.  My only memory of Barack was seeing him give a wonderfully moving speech at the Democratic National Convention.  He was running late, came in the room, mentioned in passing that Chicago traffic was terrible and began his talk to us.
From the first, I thought he was very articulate and clear in his ideas and purpose.  He spoke movingly on the war in Iraq and discussed the President Bush’s poor record on the needs of the American people.  At the end of the talk he asked for questions from the group.
The room was filled with mostly elderly people and, not surprisingly, the first question was what Obama thought about the inheritance tax.  He looked around the room, smiled, and said, “I know what you want me to say, but I believe in the inheritance tax”…..and spoke at great length about why.  It was a defining moment for me.  I knew then, and told my husband later, that here is a man who could have told the audience what they wanted to hear….spin the talk….and flip around to the point of view of the questioner.  But he didn’t. 
I began to follow and support Barack Obama after that day and have not been disappointed for one minute.  He believes what he says and acts on what he believes.
I only wish him the best of luck in his new position.  He is going to make a wonderful President of our country.
– Pam
With the exception of phone banking from home, my volunteer work for Obama consisted of getting in my car and driving to places on my own to “make friends” for Barack.  I did this in NM in September and in PA in October.    

My favorite – On October 25 I was in Dushore, PA – heart of the red part of the state – McCain signs everywhere, as well as some anti-Obama signs.  I went to the Dushore diner.  Everyone eyed me up and down, taking in the  big Obama button on my jacket.  When I left the diner to join my cousin who was driving, two BIG burly men in hunters’ garb followed me outside.  One said, that’s the first and only Obama button I’ve seen in this town.”  I replied something like, “Well, I have an extra one if you’d like to make it two for the town”.  The man said, “Step over here” and walked towards his truck. I blanched abit but both my cousin and I went over.  He opened his coat and surreptitiously showed me a small Obama button on his inside shirt.  He said, “There are more of us for him here than anyone whould think but we don’t dare put up signs”!

I had several other encounters like this one that day – union members (machinist union) who followed me to tell me they were for Obama but didn’t want their neighbors to know.  One man told me that he guessed people might call him a racist but that was because he had never met any “black people” but since he had been reading all about Obama he had decided that he liked him and would vote for him.

When I left PA after my private week there in October I just “knew” that PA would go for Obama (just as I did when I left NM).  People are good and they just need the personal attention that the Obama campaign gave them.  People respond to decency and integrity – and Obama epitomized that and the other campaign did not.

– Nancy

Do you have a story that you wish to share?  Even if you don’t, why don’t you friend me on FB? I’ll look forward to hearing from you either way.

















Here come the Hawks April 13, 2009

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It’s been far too long since we’ve been playing hockey games in Chicago well after both baseball teams have stumbled through their respective Opening Days. But thanks to some inspired play from veterans like Nikolai Khabibulin (a.k.a. “The Bulin Wall”), Martin Havlat and Patrick Sharp, along with phenoms Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg — the Blackhawks finished the regular season strongly and will kickstart their run for the 2009 Stanley Cup Thursday night against the Calgary Flames.

Because the hockey renaissance here has me tingling with nostalgia, what better way to celebrate the end of a great season than with a tribute to the glory days of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito:

A day of infamy in Illinois: impeachment debate remarks January 30, 2009

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The following is the text of my remarks during the Senate deliberations immediately preceding the 59-0 vote to convict former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of the single article of impeachment, and the subsequent vote to permanently bar him from holding public office ever again in Illinois:

Thank you, Mr. President. Like those who have preceded me, I wish to extend my deep gratitude to Chief Justice Fitzgerald, to you and Minority Leader Radogno for insuring an impeccable sense of fairness in the rules governing these proceedings…to the House prosecutor and his team and to our respective staffs who have done a tireless job under extraordinary circumstances.  

Today, the State of Illinois, the soul of the nations heartland, the home of our country’s 44th President, is bruised today and it hurts as it has never ached before.  There is no disputing, as the evidence and testimony overwhelmingly prove., that there is a consistent thread tying all of the behavior together which clearly demonstrates a pattern of abuse of power.  If , as the Governor indicated in his remarks to the Chamber this morning, (F.B.I) Special Agent Cain was constrained in his testimony…the transcripts of Ali Ata and Joseph Cari’s plea agreements, the federal government’s criminal complain, the sworn testimony in the Rezko trial and the Auditor General’s damning findings elevated the whisper to a shout from the rooftops.  Without question,  there was a systematic effort to extort money from hospital executives, racetrack owners, investment banking firms, state lease holders and the list goes on and on. 

And I have to say, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, that this is not a template that was created just six years ago.  There is no set of circumstances… there is simply no set of circumstances that any of us know of, where someone in any public office can commit to spending public taxpayer dollars without a signed contract, without legal authorization, without a fair, competitive bidding process that does not have a thumb on the scale.   People who work hard and live in our communities expect nothing less. 

In his remarks, which frankly I thought were insulting to law-abiding citizens of our communities, the Governor was clearly trying to disprove that there was a consistent pattern of behavior — one in which private individuals serving in public capacities accountable to no one  directed the spending of millions and millions of public dollars. That’s inexcusable.  It’s not a philosophical difference.  It’s against the law.  The Governor also cited the Executive Inspector General in his remarks earlier today and how it was a matter of pride that there was even an Executive Inspector General in place. But what the Governor omitted in his remarks was that at the end of her submission she pointed out, as the chief prosecutor from the House ably pointed out as well, that there was “utter contempt and disregard for the law.” 

As I indicated earlier, much of what we’ve heard and I anticipate much of what we will hear in the future in a different context, does not represent a template of abuse that developed overnight.  Nor are the participants solely affiliated with one political party.  It may have grown exponentially in these past six years, but those seeds my friends were sown long ago.

Let me reiterate as others have before me… that this is not a criminal trial.  It is a constitutional proceeding to determine the Governor’s fitness to serve all of the taxpayers of Illinois.  Governor Blagojevich as our State’s chief executive oversaw a public enterprise where legal mechanisms to assert oversight, accountability and transparency over public dollars were repeatedly dismissed or ignored.  They were characterized as cumbersome, outdated business models, inconvenient, so that real estate leases, consulting contracts, investment decisions and a host of other public assets were used to extract money and to deny taxpayers honest services. 

In one instance — the so-called “efficiency initiative” — a private entity was created out of whole cloth and payments of public dollars were made.  Payments of dollars that were stripped from state agencies that the legislative branch mandated constitutionally to ensure that they could fulfill their respective missions and those dollars were used in a very elaborate shell game. 

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, our neighbors and our nation are today confronted with great economic uncertainty that requires true ethical and undistracted attention from our State’s chief executive. Their livelihoods, their homes and their very existence during this economic crisis depend on focused and principled leadership to provide for a better future.  Governor Blagojevich, and through the actions and those of his and those his associates, have demonstrated unfortunately, tragically , that he is no longer fit to hold the office of the State’s chief executive. 

“Hey, man — Mazel Tov!” January 6, 2009

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Out in Washington, D.C., for a very quick business trip and had the pleasure of capping off my day with Sen. Dick Durbin’s soiree honoring the incoming class of Democratic U.S. Senators at Bobby Van’s Grill, just around the corner from the Grand Hyatt. Saturday Night Live’s Minnesota’s Al Franken was of course nowhere to be found, and though it was rumored that Roland Burris was going to make an appearance, I took off before subjecting myself to witnessing that uncomfortable possibility.

Though the party was Durbin’s personal welcome to the Senate’s non-Prairie State newbies, thanks to fundraiser extraordinaire Nancy Kohn and her team the restaurant and bar were teeming with Illinoisans from across the state who came to honor the nation’s second-ranking U.S. Senator. Dick’s wife, Loretta, was there for the celebration as well, along with my colleague, Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville, and scads of other Downstaters like Mike Daly, Barb Brown, Linda Hawker, Billy Halstead, Bridget and Tom Lamont, Ron and Bonnie Ettinger and Steve and Suzanna Preckwinkle, and Doug and Ann Dougherty, just to name a few. From up north, my pals Michael Bauer and Roger Simon, Susan Manilow, Todd Smith, Gila Bronner, Steve Powell, Jan Starr, Dean Maragos, Linda Sher, Marcia Balonick, Sandy Stein and Howard Swibel also helped pack the place.

Shortly before 7p, while I was chatting up Loretta Durbin on one side of the atrium I received an email on my Blackberry from the Trib‘s Christi Parsons, formerly of the Springfield bureau but now in line to become White House correspondent later this month. She asked if I was at Durbin-fest and let me know that the “pool reporters” were on their way over.

Immediately, my suspicions were aroused. Shortly thereafter, Loretta was urgently summoned to join Dick at the top of the atrium stairs. I took her by the hand and escorted her across Bobby Van’s over to her husband, who then said to me, “There’s going to be a former Illinois state senator here in a few minutes.”

Hmmm. Huff Post has more of the run-up here.

Sure enough, moments later a familiar face walks through the front door unannounced, greets the Durbins, and comes walking right down the stairs toward me with a big grin on his face. “Hey, Jeff, great to see you,” he says, as we shake hands and do the guy pound hug.

To which I reply — to the guy who officed down the hall from me at the State Capitol when I first moved over from the House to the Senate and who fought a million legislative battles along side me, who I first met when he was living on the South Side running a highly successful voter registration drive,  who is now one of the most recognized figures on the planet and who I hadn’t seen since well before he was elected our country’s 44th president:

“Hey, man — Mazel Tov!”

There was a bit more to the exchange between us before he descended into the stunned crowd to shake hands but I’ll skip it for now.

“Hey, man — Mazel Tov?”  I think I need to polish up on that etiquette a bit before I come back out here for January 20th.

Combatting sexual slavery and the use of rape as genocide January 6, 2009

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As maddening as the Illinois political situation has become, it’s sobering to remember that there are even greater injustices in the world and courageous people who fight seemingly insurmountable odds to protect the rights of others.

Describing the horrific situation in Southeast Asia, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof tells such a story from Cambodia of two women who are valiantly combatting the sexual exploitation of young girls.

Kristof paints a chilling picture of the widespread kidnapping and torture of young girls in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, highlighting the base, immoral treatment of young girls that often includes locking these young women in underground tombs and physical disfigurement for greater profit. A particularly poignant video essay accompanies his last two NYT columns. It will stay etched in your memory for years to come.

Systematic sexual violence against women in another continent has one prominent diplomat and legal scholar claiming that rape represents a deliberate tactic of genoicide in Darfur and should be prosecuted as such. My friend, David Scheffer, former U.S. Ambassador for International War Crimes now heading the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University Law School, argues forcefully in this recent LA Times op-ed piece that widespread rape of women and girls in the Sudan was a systematic tactic by the savage janjaweed, military troops and security personnel in the Sudan viciously seeking to destroy women and their communities.

International prosecutors at The Hague could soon be setting a groundbreaking precedent in the case against Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir:

Hanging in the balance is whether the heinous modern warfare strategy of mass rape will be condemned and prosecuted for what it truly is: genocide. 

Scheffer explains the  legal reasoning behind the potential genocide charge:

The court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has filed other charges as well, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and “mass murder as genocide.” But the groundbreaking charge is rape as genocide, which relies on two lesser-known ways of destroying a people: “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” or “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” 

Prosecuting the crime of rape under these particular formulations is unprecedented for the International Criminal Court. There were mass rapes in Rwanda in 1994, for instance, but many of the victims were quickly killed as part of the overall genocide. In Darfur, many rape victims survive, but they suffer grievous harm to their bodies, minds and ethnic identities that can lead to a genocidal result. 

Despite rulings from earlier Rwanda and Bosnia war crimes tribunals that offer guidance, the relative novelty and complexity of rape-as-genocide cases may impel the judges to stick to more familiar war crimes terrain. But the judges only have to find reasonable grounds to include the rape-as-genocide charges on the Bashir warrant. They need not establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard applied at trial. 

The incoming Obama administration is on record as pledging through its foreign policies to prioritize cracking down on the sexual exploitation of children and the use of rape as a deliberate strategy to destroy and devastate women, their families and their communities. Greater awareness and the resulting pressure exerted through media exposure, heightened diplomatic action and the international legal system can not only seek to shame the offending parties but also hold them accountable for their widespread atrocities.



Tribe is spot on January 2, 2009

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Because we are a nation of laws, the sequel-to-the-O.J.-car-chase scene that passes for Gov. Blagojevich’s appointment of former state attorney general Roland Burris to the vacant U.S. Senate seat has triggered considerable postulating on the constitutionality of withholding admission to The World’s Most Exclusive Club. 

Many pundits and talking heads have pointed to the case involving the late U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell as proof that the U.S. Senate has little choice but to seat Burris.

Better to ask a real constitutional authority like noted Harvard con law Prof. Laurence Tribe, who is spot on with his analysis as to why the U.S. Senate is within its rights not go through with it.

Step away from the car, Roland January 2, 2009

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The twisted Machiavellian machinations that define disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich have now spawned a new offspring in the appointment of former state comptroller and attorney general Roland Burris to the vacant U.S. Senate seat held by president-elect Barack Obama.

As the days count down to the January 7 swearing-in of the U.S. Senate, CNN’s Political Ticker reports that a plan has been devised by Senate aides to politely yet firmly decline Burris entry to the Senate chambers if he persists in trying to show up for work that day. While Burris has previously said that he will not stage a confrontational scene at the U.S. Capitol, unfortunately that assertion provides little comfort  at the moment. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he condemned the Governor’s unethical behavior as “appalling”  and “reprehensible”  before becoming mesmerized by the allure of becoming the junior U.S. Senator of Illinois.

The indefatigable Lynn Sweet of the Sun Times provides additional perspective here on how Roland Burris is underestimating the blowback coming his way.

Please, step away from the car, Roland — you won’t be able to sandblast the indelible stain of the Governor’s actions off your good name if you follow through on this ill-conceived adventure. There is no shame in saying that you have taken the public interest into account and have reconsidered your earlier decision to accept this profoundly flawed offer. And as E.J. Dionne points out in his syndicated column, the Obama-led national Democrats in D.C.  are most likely to decide that they’re ultimately better off waiting out this whole sordid mess by slowly studying it to death rather than trying to strike an accommodation that seats Senator Burris on an interim or caretaker basis, as “treating this appointment as a circus act makes more sense than taking it seriously.” 

One thing that we absolutely must  take seriously is to promptly pass a special election bill, not just for filling this vacancy but for any future U.S. Senate opening.

Wait ’til next year… January 2, 2009

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Red Wings 6 Blackhawks 4 in the 2009 Winter Classic.

Fortunately, with Kaner, Tazer and the Bulin Wall we might be deep in the Stanley Cub playoffs well after Opening Day at The Friendly Confines.