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May 25, 2006

New ways in Davenport

When the Davenport City Council votes, Ald.-at-large Ian Frink and the 2nd Ward's Shawn Hamerlinck often take different sides.

Their differences are less the subject here, though, than their similarities. Both are young, rookies on the council, possessed of the blend of civic duty and ambition required to enter the political arena, and both Q-C pioneers in using the tools of the age to better do their jobs.

Hamerlinck's Second Ward Discussion and Frink's Ian Frink, Ald. at Large are opening new lines of communication with the people the aldermen represent, easy to use lines, too, for the ever-larger number of people who spend time on the web.

"Second Ward Discussion" has been around for nearly a year, first as a campaign tool and now as a ward forum. Pretty pedestrian -- and useful -- stuff. Graffitti reports, parking complaints, weed whines, sewer-backing-up-into-basement gripes and such. Hamerlinck reports on doings down at city hall, and floats ideas. (Anybody for a lifetime property-tax freeze for retirees 65 and up?)

There's reaction. Bunch of parking tickets got issued down on Hillandale. The foot-high grass on the island on Kimberly got mowed. City administrator Craig Malin has promised there'll a "report graffiti" link on the city's new website-in-the-making.

Frink's blog is new. He reports in the top post that he's in Kansas City for the Neighborhoods USA Conference, and promises a report when he gets home.

Be interesting to see the direction "Ald.-at-Large Ian Frink" takes as time passes.

What the aldermen are accomplishing was accomplished by whatever communication tool was available by good alderpeople in all times and places, but the aldermanic blogs lets everyone in on the discussion(s) in an unprecedentedly public way. That's a good thing, for the residents of a city and for their alderpeople.

In becoming bloggers, Frink and Hamerlinck join several other Davenporters -- of no official standing -- who have broadened the civic discussion in general. In total, they form a useful adjunct to traditional media. If I'm getting caught up, especially on political things, I'm as likely to cruise the blogs as the newspapers and/or their websites. (Latest posts from Quad-Citians who are blogging are displayed at qconline.com/qcbloggers.)

Speaking of getting caught up ... I gotta find time to find out a little more about all those guys running for Congress in the lst District. I'll start with Iowa's First where Scoop Iowa keeps a lively discussion going and where I'll find links to all the candidate websites.

Anyway, I digress. Hamerlinck and Frink get gold stars for using the new tools. Hope they're just the beginning.

Posted by jcb at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2006

Blago's pretty school picture

Wow! Nothing small about the education proposals Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich tossed on the table Tuesday afternoon. (Blagojevich press release)

Good ideas abound. Enacted into law, they'd be a boon to the schools, though strengthening teacher accountibility ought to be on the table, too, since we're talking about pumping a new $10 billion into education.

The money? No problem -- we'll just sell and/or lease the state lottery.

Uh oh. To paraphrase Johnny Cash here, the skepticism is knee-deep high and rising. Rapidly.

The numbers are instant mush. No way of knowing at this point even approximately how much an IPO of lottery stock would bring in; same's true of a lease arrangement. Way too many unknowns, chief among them who'd actually control such things as expanding gambling.

If I'm an investor, I'd be reluctant to put up much if the legislature had it's hand in the pot (lot of people took it in the shorts in Iowa this year when lawmakers decided new lotto machines were really slots and had to be yanked out of thousands of locations.)

If I'm a lawmaker, I'd be reluctant to hand over control of gambling to anybody.

Beyond that, there's the question of whether it's very bright to sell off what Blago called a "valuable asset." Looks like another case of instant gratification. Big wad of cash now, and let somebody else worry about tomorrow.

I'm made doubly skeptical by the governor's attempt to run the old "do it for the schools" scam by the public for a second time. First time was when the lottery was created back in '72 or thereabouts. Helping the schools was the chief selling point used by lottery backers, but then the proceeds went into the general fund. People kept complaining about that, so in 1986 lawmakers decreed that the lottery money would go directly into the Common School Fund, and it has ever since (though Blagojevich skirted that fact Tuesday).

'course, the lottery money amounts to far less than is spent from the Common School Fund, so the schools remain at the mercy of the lawmakers each year at budget time. If the state gets the wad of cash Blago is fishing for, it'll go quickly and we'll be right back where we are today -- scrounging around for cash every year, only needing more to support all the new things created.

Skepticism's already waist-deep high and rising, despite the pretty school picture the governor is waving about.

Posted by jcb at 12:30 AM | Comments (15)

May 17, 2006

If you're headed for Decatur, find the alley

Couple of weeks back, in a conversation with Ill. State. Sen. John Sullivan, one of the hopefuls in the 17th Congressional District, I said that no one should be a candidate unless they can pass this test: Start in Rock Island and get to Decatur without leaving the district.

He laughed, ruefully. "They'd have to find the right alley in Springfield."

Yup. An alley. That's how wide the 17th is as it snakes through portions of Springfield.

Last weekend, in Galesburg, I was talking to 17th District committeeman Don Johnston about the difficulties he faces in getting an accurate count on the Democratic vote in the district's voting precincts. One problem, he said, is that some precincts are divided among three congressional districts.

Yup. Precincts. Illinois' congressional map not only divides counties, townships and cities, it even chops up precincts, those tiniest of political subdivisions.

The map makes a joke of the Illinois Constitution, which declares, "Representative Districts shall be compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population." The districts may be substantially equal in population, but there's nothing compact about them. Contiguous? Well, there is that alley in Springfield.

Amazingly -- and disturbingly -- the map apparently is the best that could be done by the legislature, which booted the reapportionment job to a special commission, the work of which finally passed muster in both the state and federal court systems. And all we got was this?

Iowa, as if often the case, does it better. A different procedure and, perhaps, less savage partisanship produced districts that can be described with a straight face as compact and contiguous. Not so much as a single county, let alone a precinct, is divided between congressional districts.

The Illinois map is the forth since I've been in the Q-C. In the '70s, the district (the 19th then, I believe) was a clearly identifiable chunk of western Illinois, compact and made contiguous by more than an alley here and there. As the map changed after each census, in 1980, 1990 and 2000, the district lines meandered a bit more, until we got the bizarre and, I think, patently unconstitutional mess we're saddled with now.

I shudder to think what the 2010 map will look like, unless there's enough uproar to get the Illinois Constitution amended to provide for some Iowa-like process before then. But there's all that apathy that the deal-making politicians depend upon when they commit atrocities.

So envision a backroom, maybe won't be smoke-filled these days, the guys sitting around a table. "So you can have Kewanee and those Democrats and we'll take Geneseo and the Republicans." And "We got some Democrats we don't need in the 15th... oh, well we'll use this alley to connect them up the 17th." It's a bi-partisan effort, where the game is to protect incumbents and, after them, their party.

After the most recent round of redistricting, the London news magazine, The Economist, commenting on the nation-wide effort, said ``In a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. In America, it is rapidly becoming the other way around.''

All too true. Not the way it's supposed to be.

Posted by jcb at 09:13 PM | Comments (57)

May 16, 2006

A couple of alderpeople get it...

Maybe it's a 2nd Ward thing ... but it's probably more a young guy thing.

Anyway, Moline's Michael Carton and Davenport's Shawn Hamerlinck are making effective use of the web, setting good examples for other politicians.

Ald. Hamerlinck's blog Second Ward Discussion, is just that, and a pretty good one, too. Lots of ideas and information flowing back and forth.

Ald. Carton's website isn't quite that interactive, but it certainly makes it easy to contact him and share a view.

Wave of the future, lapping at even the Q-C.

Posted by jcb at 11:28 PM | Comments (6)

May 14, 2006

Reviewing the review

A commenter on the qcmediareviw blog suggests the Q-C may need a "media review site review site."

Not willing go set up a whole site, but the suggestion reminds me that I've been meaning to do a review of the review.

When qcmediareview launched around the first of the year, I had high expectations. QC is an unusual, if not unique, media market. Four of the major networks have affiliates here; print scene features Big Corporation (Lee Enterprises) vs. a family owned operation (Small Newspaper Group.) There's an independent weekly and lots of specialty publications. Not much going on in radio, despite lots of stations. Seems like about two companies own pretty close to the whole batch, but even that's a media development worth analyzing.

TV and radio have regional reach, as does print to a lesser degree. There's a reason all those presidential candidates are always running around the Q-C, getting in our way.

Been pretty disappointed so far. Infrequent posts are a problem, making qcmediareview a weekly in a split-second age. I sympathize with the problems outlined by "senior editor" about lack of time; I don't do much better than they do some weeks.

Too bad, too, that the blogger(s) have gone the anonymous route. It's easier to speak from the shadows, I guess.

Content has been pretty spotty, quality-wise. The image that comes to mind reading through the site is that of the blind men trying to describe an elephant, when one's got a hold of the tail, another the trunk and the third, a foot. Reading some posts, I see "senior editor" down on his knees, magnifying glass in hand, getting all excited 'cause he thinks two of the hairs around a toenail are slightly different lengths.

They've been absurd at times (see the Virgin Mary/Lady of Guadalupe stuff), but they've gotten a couple of good discussions going in the last month or so. The Explain It: Read It/Watch It entry and comments were interesting, as were those on Pseudo Blogging at the QC Times. The latter discussion apparently even spurred QCT to fix a problem.

More of that kind of stuff, more frequently, would breath life into qcmedia review. But so far, well, I'd have to give it about half a star.

Posted by jcb at 12:28 AM | Comments (4)

May 13, 2006

Galesburg -- white hair and civic duty

Galesburg, another cool and gray May day, Democratic committeepeople gathering to nominate candidates who'll form the final field from which they'll pick a replacement candidate for Lane Evans in the 17th Congressional District.

At the Orpheum Theater, four of the candidates -- Mark Schwiebert, Phil Hare, Rob Mellon and Mike Boland -- formed a reception line in the lobby. The fifth, John Sullivan, was inside, working the area cordoned off for elected committeepeople only. I stood watching him, and counting chairs. Seven rows, 11 seats on one side of the aisle and six on the other -- 129 chairs.

As the chairs filled, and they all did, one fact stood out ever more starkly. It was a white-hair (or no-hair) crowd. I'd be surprised if even a half-dozen of them haven't left 40 long behind.

That's no kind of knock. Saw a lot of familiar faces -- good people who mostly get nothing for what they do except criticism and the satisfaction of playing a part. They take their parts seriously, too, or they wouldn't have driven the 40- or 60- or 100 miles they did, to listen one more time to the five men who want to replace Evans on the ballot.

The committeepeople got eyes, too, and self-awareness. Mellon, the 35-year-old whippersnapper from Quincy, acknowledging after his nomination that he's a longshot in this contest, talked about the future. "Heck," he said, "in 10 years, I'll still be younger than all these other guys are now.'' He got a burst of uproareous laughter and a huge round of applause. Same thing happened when he talked about chess and planning, then said that George W. Bush is a checkers player. Mellon's made a lot of friends the last month or so, even if not many of them cast a vote for him -- this time.

When I talked to him in the reception line on the way in, he didn't expect to get a nomination. Might not have, either, if Boland hadn't done it. "This is kind of unusual," Boland said in preface to providing an opponent the formal recognition needed to continue in the race. Asked Boland later why he did it, and he said that Mellon's adamantly stuck in the race, is a smart kid and ought to be encouraged.

Pretty gracious. On the other hand, I suppose having Mellon in for the final vote may cost Sullivan a little down-district, and every little bit helps from a Rock Island County perspective. There's a building consensus that Sullivan, a state senator from Rushville, will be the man if RICO committeepeople don't substantially back one the three hopefuls calling it home.

That's probably right. I've talked to a lot of committeepeople in the outer reaches of the sprawling 17th District as this improbable campaign has played out over the last month. Lots of them like Sullivan, like him a lot.

Anyway, here's the final field from which the committeepeople will pick the nominee:

-- Sullivan, a state senator from Rushville, who was nominated by Adams County Chairman Don Hagestrom.

-- Mellon, a school teacher from Quincy, nominated by Boland, committeeman for South Moline 17, in Rock Island County.

-- Boland, a state rep from East Moline, nominated by David Guzzardo, from Kewanee Precinct 4 in Henry County.

-- Schwiebert, Rock Island's mayor, nominated by Helen Heiland, from South Moline 1, in Rock Island County.

-- Hare, a long-time aide to Evans, nominated by Douglas House, Black Hawk 7, in Rock Island County.

The session went off without a hitch, following the procedures 17th District Committeeman Don Johnston and Committeewoman Mary Boland laid out in advance. There was no evidence of the controversies their decisions have stirred up around the district. Johnston said at the outset that the state board of elections advised him to get an opinion from private counsel; that Rock Island attorney Stuart Lefstein had provided procedural guidance and his advice would be followed. No one challenged him.

There's still no firm date for a decision. Johnston said committeepeople will be given three weeks to vote, after the ballots are mailed. Before mailing the ballots, he said, he first must have certification of votes in each precinct from each of the 23 county clerks in the district.

When that information's all in hand, each of the 396 elected committeepeople will be mailed a ballot that includes the number of votes they're entitled to cast, a number equal to the Democratic vote in their precinct in the March 21 primary. Each committeeperson can split the votes, dividing them among the five candidates however they want.

The ballots will be held in a locked post office box until the designated day, when Johnston, Mary Boland, and a committee of five county clerks open the box and count the ballots. Whoever gets the most votes from among those cast will be nominee. No last-minute horse-trading, no runoffs.


The possibility that Sullivan might get the nod, and win, had people talking about when was the last time Rock Island County was not home to the congressman for whatever district it was in at the moment. Nobody was coming up with a name, or time. Beyond me. Tom Railsback of Moline was the guy when I got to town 34 years ago. Evans replaced him.
Got the answer, though, when I stopped by the Cherry St. Brewing Co., a couple of blocks from the Orpheum, for a Hare meet-and-greet after the meeting.

John Gianulis, RICO's venerable chairman, was there, though he hadn't attended the nominating session. I asked him, and he knew. It was Gale Schisler, from London Mills, down in Knox County. He was elected in 1964. JohnG even remembered the circumstances. Dems didn't have a candidate in the primary and some people who liked Schisler got up a write-in effort, got him on the ballot for the general election and he won. It was a one-term thing, though. Railsback beat him in 1966.

Didn't ask Gianulis, who's been working hard for Hare, for a prediction. He didn't volunteer one. Just said during the conversation that the process is running its course, and the job is to get the votes in and counted.

Posted by jcb at 03:25 PM | Comments (64)

May 10, 2006

The field narrows (and narrows again)

Added May 11: Hal Bayne joined the ranks of the departed this afternoon. Probably won't make that much difference since he was the longest of the long shots.

Anyway, field is down to five now. Anyone else going to drop out before Saturday?

(From May 10) The D/A-QCO reports this afternoon that Amy Stockwell is withdrawing from contention for the nomination to replace Lane Evans as the Dem congressional candidate. She endorsed Sen. John Sullivan.

Couple of questions: Is Stockwell's announcement the first step in a down-district unity move?

If so, will RICO Dems folo with a unity move of their own, getting behind the Q-C candidate viewed most favorably down-district?

Posted by jcb at 06:09 PM | Comments (32)

The Lefstein opinion: Only the elected may vote

Here's the text of the opinion from Rock Island attorney Stuart Lefstein on whether appointed committeepeople are entitled to vote when the district congressional commitee selects a replacement for Lane Evans as the congressional nominee.

He says not; that only elected committeepeople cast ballots. He also said committeepeople can can allocate their weighted votes among however many candidates they want.

Posted by jcb at 02:07 PM | Comments (11)

May 08, 2006

The price and the gain...

All the folderol about whether A.D. Huesing was justified in firing pig-plant opponent Dawn Marner is a side-show, detracting attention from the point everyone needs to notice and remember.

East Moline Mayor John Thodos, when he contacted A.D. Huesing about a fax Ms. Marner sent, engaged in an act of petty vindictiveness against someone who not only exercised her rights as a citizen, but, gasp, did so effectively. In making the call to Ms. Marner's employer, Mr. Thodos revealed a side of his character that voters should remember if and when he once again goes asking for their support.

There's unlikely to be an opportunity to vote against Robert Imler, the exec from RiverStone (which owns the land where the pork processing plant would be built) who also made a call to A.D. Huesing -- he doesn't play elective politics. Suffice it to say that his rather mushy explanations aside, his call was on a level with Thodos'.

The calls apparently got them no place, at least originally. Ms. Marner said she was asked about use of the company fax to send two letters, said she had done so and was not disciplined. I suspect, without knowing, she was told something on the order of "you have every right to do take part in civic life, but please don't involve us."

Then, of course, she did exactly that by using her new knowledge to publicly denounce the tactics of Thodos et.al. That apparently was a step farther than A.D. Huesing was willing to go with her, given that she was, she said, fired without explanation after being questioned about the meeting at which she revealed her employer had been contacted, and the resulting newspaper stories.

Whatever the rights-and-wrongs of the firing -- and that is essentially the business of Marner and her former employer -- it seems clear that Thodos et. al. did what they could to get her in trouble for commiting the sin of opposing them. Give her points for shining a light into that dark little corner of political life in the Q-C.

Not so surprising, is it, that so many people prefer anonymity when speaking on public issues here?

Posted by jcb at 07:26 PM | Comments (11)

May 04, 2006

On the road again

Will be running the highways for a few days. Will be moderating comments as the chance arises, but it may be spotty.

Posted by jcb at 11:22 AM | Comments (13)

Shuffling the Q-C gambling scene

Nothing ain't done til it's done, so some skepticism is in order when listening to the Casino Rock Island people talk about a late 2007 opening for their planned new boat/hotel/shopping/theater complex out on Interstate 280, at Illinois 92.

Assuming , though, that time-frame turns out to even close to right, the move will sharply alter the face of the gambling industry in the Quad-Cities. The Rock Island boat, the oldest, smallest and, well, shabbiest of the three boats here, will morph into the newest, biggest and splashiest, serious competition for the Isle of Capri in Bettendorf, currently No. 1 in both size and revenue.

Caught in the middle, literally, will be Rhythm City, the Davenport boat (also owned by Isle of Capri).

Upriver,the Bettendorf boat is adding a 12-story, 258-room tower to its existing 256-room place. Bettendorf's planning an events center at the site. All of it, of course, is conveniently located a couple of blocks off Interstate 74. Downriver, there'll be the Rock Island boat's big new center, located conveniently right off an I-280 exit.

In that picture, Rhythm City's a dead-sure bet to fall into Casino Rock Island's former slot at the bottom of the barrel; probably will end up there even if their stalled plan to build a new hotel on the Davenport riverfront comes to fruition. Anybody coming from out of town isn't particularly likely to get past the places on the interstates. Why drive through all that traffic to get downtown?

When Rhythm City fast-talked its proposal through a split city council just over a year ago, there was much talk of the project getting under way late last summer; then, in applications filed with the Corps of Engineers last fall, RC estimated a spring, 2006 construction start. That didn't happen either.

Fast-talking through the Corps flood-plain alteration approval process didn't work. William Ashton, an engineer with vast experience on Davenport flood plain issues, has challenged the hydrology figures given the Corps by Rhythm City, particularly regarding the impact of higher water on the boat's neighbors. Also still hanging fire is an Iowa Department of Natural Resources permit, issuance of which is also being challenged because of fish habitat and spawning-ground issues. No sure bet on it, either.

As one of the many Davenporters who opposed the deal the city cut with Rhythm City, I'm having trouble feeling much sympathy for RC's plight. The boat/city should have given up the fantasy, as did Rock Island, that the boats provide any real economic boost for downtown.

Chasing that illusion is costing the city's taxpayers, first in the subsidies for contruction of the proposed riverfront hotel and secondly in the agreement that the city will take ownership of the problem-ridden Black Hawk Hotel, now owned by the Rhythm City people. City's getting the Black Hawk for $1, which is $1 more than its worth.

Anyway, better not get started on that.


Overlooked in all the hoopla about the economic wonders the Casino Rock Island project will create is that fact that it takes the riverboat -- and the river -- out of riverboat gambling. The new CRI won't be within eyeshot of the river, other than maybe from upper-floor windows in the hotel.

Any requirements about being on the river apparently will be satisfied by the fact the casino portion of the develoment will have a damp piece of Stryofoam somewhere under it.

In short, land-based gambling is here, in Illinois as least.

Hmm .. maybe the suggestion that RC could convert the Black Hawk into a casino/hotel wasn't so far fetched. Run a moat an inch deep around the place, pipe a little water down to the river.

Maybe the Iowa Gaming Commission would see that as good enough to meet the river requirement, given that the competition is using wet Styrofoam at a site a mile from the river.

A casino in the middle of town is no prize, but it'd be no worse than one on an otherwise very nice riverfront. And Davenport's taxpayers wouldn't get stuck with the Black Hawk.

Posted by jcb at 10:13 AM | Comments (5)

May 03, 2006

On elected and appointed committeepeople...

"In the organization and proceedings of congressional committees composed of precinct committeemen or township committeemen or ward committeemen, or any combination thereof, each precinct committeeman shall have one vote for each ballot voted in his precinct by the primary electors of his party at the primary at which he was elected ...''
-- Article 7, Sec. 7-8, Paragraph (e) Illinois Election Code (emphasis added)

The paragraph above, particularly the word I boldfaced, is the basis for the assertion by Don Johnston and Mary Boland that only precinct committeepeople elected in the March 21 primary can vote when the Democrats' congressional committee decides who will replace Lane Evans as the party's nominee to Congress.

As is always the case with the law, an argument can be made that what it says isn't what it means, considering what it says -- or implies -- in some other section. Johnston, the district committeeman, and Boland, the committeewoman, are undeterred: The business of the nominating convention, now set for May 13, will be conducted by elected committeepeople only.

District-wide, only 396 of the 721 precincts elected a committeeperson March 21.

So, the cry goes, voters in the remaining 325 are being disenfranched. Well, yes, I guess.

Is it possible to "re-enfrancise" the voters in the 325 precincts? Well, the county chairmen can appoint committeepeople in vacant precincts.

Here's how that's worked it practice, in Rock Island County. Forty-one of the 120 precincts were vacant after the March 21 primary. No one ran. (The large number of vacant precincts is in and of itself a measure of the decline of the RICO "machine.")

Chairman John Gianulis, as he is entitled to do, appointed people to fill those 41 vacancies when the county committee re-organized after the primary. He also made no bones about the fact he was only going to appoint people who support the candidate he's backing for the nomination. I'd guess the same is true in most of the other counties in the 17th.

If I were one of the voters with an appointed committeeman pledged to vote as Gianulis wants, I'm not sure I'd feel particuarly "re-enfranchised." I'd be further doubtful, given that in 37 of the 41 cases, the appointee does not live in the precinct he now "represents." (Credit here to Johnston, who provided the numbers.)

There's nothing illegal, immoral or fattening about appointing non-residents to precinct posts. Perfect legal. But on the "enfranchising" issue, it's the county chairman, not the voters in the precincts, who's getting all the enfranchising.

Johnston said there may be some hooting and hollering on the elected vs. appointed issue when the nominating convention is called to order. There's still muttering about a lawsuit to challenge the Johnston/Boland reading of the statute.

In the meantime, six candidates -- each possessing a goodly number of strong points -- are scrambling somewhat bewildered through a sadly truncated process.

Fascinating stuff, kind of like watching ambulance crews busy at a car wreck.

Posted by jcb at 11:26 PM | Comments (24)

Evans exit official; the plan to replace him

The D/A has all the details on the plan to pick a Democratic congressional nominee to replace Lane Evans, who's now officially declined the nomination he won March 21.

Plans announced by Don Johnston Tuesday are much the same as he said they would be last Saturday, and outlined in the post below.

Here's Kurt Allmeier's story from the D/A.

Posted by jcb at 09:16 AM | Comments (7)