The First Ward Report – The process of government sausage making – Part 3!

I’m sure you’ve taken note of the part three title change! It’s the result of one of my favorite readers expressing his appreciation that “someone is watching the sausage making that is our politics around us!” I liked that abjectly apt metaphor so much I applied it here!

And while I certainly appreciate that compliment, and I enjoy sharing my unique local government insights, the sad truth is, these are consistently my least popular pieces. I’m sure it’s a combination of watching-paint-dry excitement and the fact that folks would rather howl about their scurrilous local elected officials than understand the process.

Meanwhile, in part one we discussed the inevitabilities that occur when mayors, chairmen, and village presidents move into their second term. That conversation included the five categories board members/city councilmen/trustees tend to fall into as the proceedings start to become more contentious.

Part two presented a perfect example of how that dynamic plays out in the form of the “Kane Mutiny” which saw our Board rise up and demand the coronavirus relief fund distribution process be handed over to them.

Today, we’re gonna cover how the strange, and frequently overlapping, supervisory roles of the “followers” and the “leader” can lead to all sorts of friction.

You see, most people don’t understand that, aside from setting the main meeting agenda, the leader has no real power. With a few notable exceptions like the City of Elgin, leaders don’t get to vote on anything unless the followers’ vote is deadlocked.

So, when it comes to supervising high level municipal/county staff and department heads, technically, the leader can only do so with the advice and consent of the followers.

But it rarely works out that way because “followers” like aldermen are eminently part-time propositions, while leaders are expected to put much more effort into the gig. That means the leader generally plays the direct supervising role by default, with the followers  simply going along for the ride.

And that dynamic tends to work quite well until the second half of the leader’s second term when the previously described growing friction becomes so great that the followers begin to demand their supervisory rights, which throws six years of reasonable cooperation directly into the crapper.

That’s exactly the case with Chairman Chris Lauzen, those fun-loving ADHD County Board members, and the Kane County Workforce Development Board.

But before we continue, since I have not delved into this iteration of the KCWDB, I won’t be casting any personal aspersions on that group. We’ll only consider the Chairman’s issues with WDB Director Scott Berger.

For background purposes, it’s also important to note that, particularly under former Chairman Karen McConnaughay, the WDB became the perfect patronage receptacle for all manner of questionable crony hires. So, watching Chairman Lauzen shine a light on that typically dark area doesn’t bother me at all.

But when the Chairman asked why the WDB assistant director was allowed to work from Minnesota and why Berger hadn’t scheduled a required compliance meeting since May of 2019, normally reasonable board members John Hoscheit and John Martin dashed off a dire missive explaining how Lauzen was overstepping his statutory powers and he should back off forthwith!

BTW, for some absurd reason, local governing bodies just love to send each other scathing letters such that it begs for some sort of hilarious Monty Python send up. Of course, that letter was sent to every County Board member, as well as State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, just for good making-it-much-worse measure.

While Hoscheit and Martin were absolutely correct about the Board, and not the Chairman, being responsible for supervising the WDB, my response to that letter would’ve been, “Well then, bleepin’ supervise them!” Though that would certainly be a first, because, in 14-plus years of covering that gaggle, I’ve never seen ‘em successfully supervise something as simple as a backyard pool party.

Yes! I, as a taxpayer take issue with $125,000 a year employee (salary and benefits) working from two states away. I understand working remotely from Elgin in the plague era, but how does one successfully “assistant direct” from 400 miles away? It can’t be done.

As far as the lack of compliance meetings go, considering the WDB is a vastly federally funded entity, that lapse will eventually come back to bite Kane County is the ass. It may take awhile for the feds to finally catch up, but when they do, they better not find any fiscal surprise or it won’t be pretty.

So, because the board members – and most “followers” – consistently fail to supervise, the Chairman stepped in to supervise, and then he was excoriated for supervising by a couple of suddenly self-righteous board members. Why does the term “Catch-22” suddenly come to mind?

I’m really starting to think Yossarian got it right (look it up)!

And we’re not talking about a poorly paid group of village trustees here, either. Kane County Board members make 25 grand a year and they get a Cadillac benefits package on top of that (not everyone takes the benefits) for a “job” that, for at least half of them, takes no more than six hours a month.

In conclusion (finally, right?), borne of what I call “second-term-itis” brought on by the eminently thin-skinned followers who fervently believe they should be the leader, and now taking every perceived leader slight as a mortal wound, at that point, local governing bodies tend to descend into a cat herding endeavor without nearly enough litter boxes to deal with the increasing manure problem.

And with a new Chairman coming in after November, the process will start all over again. To quote that great philosopher David Byrne, “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it EVER was!”

The First Ward Report – Same as it ever was – Part 2!

When we last left off, the Joker and his henchman had Batman and Robin trapped in the abandoned warehouse…wait a minute! I may have gotten a wee bit off track here! Though in the end, that classic 60’s Batman analogy may turn out to be far more applicable than you might think!

Kane County Board

We were actually discussing how easy it is to predict the persistent propensities of local governing bodies based on the length of time the “leader” (chairman/mayor/president) has served. Please refer back to part one if you require a quick refresher.

Then, after some in-depth coverage of that phenomenon, we moved on to a couple of recent Kane County Board kerfuffles that certainly seem to support our theory.

The first fight began with the original Kane County Task Force’s June effort to develop a reasonable distribution plan for the $93 million the County received in federal coronavirus relief funds. And if that isn’t a proposition fraught will all manner of political peril, I don’t know what is!

The opening salvo was fired by one of those eminently predictable Cindy Brady board members who just had to run to State’s Attorney Joe McMahon and tattle on Chairman Chris Lauzen for a perceived Open Meetings violation.

But unlike President Trump, the Task Force, headed up by crack Kane county Auditor Terry Hunt, wasn’t bypassing the Board so they could dole out money to friends and family. No! They were appropriately endeavoring to narrow the possibilities before handing the process off to the Board’s Executive Committee as the law requires.

And those kinds of non-binding private group deliberations are NOT prohibited by the Open Meetings Act.

Of course, as is par for the course, our “hold-my-beer” State’s Attorney couldn’t help but issue yet another stern missive, this one warning the Chairman of the dire consequences of any OMA infraction. And as you might imagine, this utterly unnecessary move sent the proceedings directly into a cacophony of contentiousness.

The kinda fun irony there is, if the Board wants to blame anyone for that supposed secrecy, they need look no further than little old me! With a more-than-reasonable grasp of the OMA and FOIA statutes, I’m the one who advised the Task Force that they were well within the bounds of the law and to keep their cards as close to their collective chests for as long as possible.

Consider all the shrieking and howling the would’ve ensued had the Task Force tried to convince each of those 24 board members of the efficacy of their $93 million allocation plan before it was complete! It would’ve descended directly into the kind of abject nightmare that would’ve made the Chicago riots pale in comparison.

Convinced this supposed “secrecy” was the surest sign of foul play, and prodded by the usual anti-Lauzen louts…I mean…suspects, this early July Kane Mutiny saw the Board rise up to demand the distribution process be handed over to them forthwith!

Ironically, this mutiny occurred just as the Task Force was ready to turn it over to the Board, and when they saw Hunt’s well-considered plan, they got kinda quiet and thanked him for his hard work.

That swift 180 is quite reminiscent my favorite Emily Litella catch phrase, “Oh! That’s very different. Never mind!”

But now, through a vast board ego, a failure to understand procedural rules, an inability to grasp the enormity of the task, an infinite animosity towards the Chairman, and an absurd lack of faith in some fine elected officials, the Kane County Board not only embarrassed themselves, but expended an immense amount of unnecessary time, effort, and agida in the process.

It’s this kind of self-serving public positioning that drives board and city council “leaders” to a certain “crankiness” in their second term. To wit, go back to those board meeting videos and watch Theresa Barreiro regularly blurt out potential press quotes until the Chairman was forced to threaten her with removal if she persisted in purposely ignoring protocol.

And the Chairman’s supposed to be the problem?

Then, after all the dire proclamations about the need to swiftly disburse these COVID funds, this new seven-board-member committee, generally directed by the State’s Attorney, are taking their own sweet time in finalizing the process.

With our third irony failing to go unnoticed, some of their peers are now referring to that gaggle as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” with McMahon playing the title role. Perhaps they’d get a lot more done if they stopped whistling while they worked! I’d point out which board member is playing which dwarf, but since some of my best friends are board members, I’ll leave it to your imagination.

In the end, all this repeating-the-same-thing-while-expecting-a-different-result insanity is the result of an absurd antipathy towards a second-term leader on the part of the followers who, harboring no self-reflective capacity whatsoever, don’t begin to realize they’re behaving far worse than anyone else involved.

This is why, until they legalize homicide, I WILL NEVER run for office.

Yikes! It looks like this is gonna turn out to be a three-parter. That means we’ll cover the morass known as the Kane County Workforce Development Board and the related fracas on Friday. Until then…

The First Ward Report – Same as it ever was!

Considering my considerable coverage of all manner of governing bodies, all you have to do is give me the length of the mayor’s/president’s/chairman’s tenure and the number of councilmen/board members/trustees involved, and with no other details, I will tell you, with alarming accuracy, the dynamic that pervades that particular electoral ensemble.

Unless the “leader” is a significant problem from the get-go, the first two years of their first term almost always consists of a cooperative honeymoon phase. It’s during the second half of that term when the proceedings start to get a little more contentious.

After that, this certain to decay process is typically driven by the “minions” as they inevitably fall into five predictable categories:

  1. The Follower  – They tend towards the center of power and generally go along with the leader.
  2. The Lone Loon – This typically male minion ardently believes every word he utters is divinely inspired and, thus, he should be revered and adored above all others. The love to single-handedly take meetings directly into the dumpster.
  3. The Wannabes – These are the folks who, though they didn’t run for leader because they lack that skill, become completely convinced they should be the one in charge and they work to undermine the leader at every turn.
  4. The Why-Did-I-Runner – These candidates had no clue about all the hard work involved, so they simply show up (sometimes) and rarely say or add anything material as they pray for their term to come a quick and merciful end.
  5. The Good Ones – These rare birds give it their best, put in the required hours, and make a real effort to consider their constituents in the continuing decision-making process.

Now, add the ironic fact that, despite surviving some of the most contentious local races on the planet, these elected officials harbor some of the thinnest skins on the planet. That makes them the catalyst for the leader’s second term descending into something somewhere between merely contentious and completely careening off the rails.

I suppose I could’ve summed up that entire preamble up with the traditional “familiarity breeds contempt” aphorism, but it’s too late now! Then it’s simply a matter of rinse, lather, and repeat.

“Jeff! Why are you bringing this up now?” I’m glad you asked! As Chris works his way towards that Building A exit one last time, our current County Board is rapidly descending into that second term cat herding category.

But before his no-account “adoring throng” attacks me for being his mouthpiece one more time (What fun!), please allow me to stipulate for the record that Chairman Lauzen doesn’t always play well with others such that even he and I have had it out at times.

The truth is, whether those board members or countywide elected officials like it or not, the Chairman is the “manager,” and it’s up to them to effectively deal with him, not vice versa.

First, that sometime surly mien is far from rare when it comes to board leaders, and second, the best baseball managers – Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, Leo Durocher and the great Billy Martin – consistently won because they were of the demanding sort. Much as it is with a MLB roster, the Chairman has to contend with 24 disparate board voices and, as Leo the Lip once accurately noted, “Nice guys finish last!”

Flaunting fear is not option because the 2’s and 3’s (see above list) will eat you for breakfast and spit you out for lunch.

Building A

And it’s two recent board rebellions that incited me into maintaining that this governmental gaggle really needs to get over themselves and consider growing up. Not that this abundantly constructive criticism will make much of a difference, mind you!

The first attempted coup, or the Kane Mutiny as I like to call it, involved the entire Board revolting –  and “they certainly are revolting ” to quote another great philosopher name Marx – back in early July. With pitchforks and torches in hand, they insisted the Chairman disburse that $93 million in federal COVID relief funds, NOW!

Just to whet your journalistic appetite, this journalist may have played a part in that possibility, too!

The second and semi-ongoing insurrection revolves around the Chairman’s attempt to rein in the perpetually rogue and patronage heavy Kane County Workforce Development Board. The absurd written response from Board Members John Hoscheit and John Martin in that regard reminded me of the time Latka Gravas warned alter-ego Vic Ferrari not to come back or he’d “call him a name!”

It’s certainly not the kind of thing that wins friends and influences people.

Of course, no errant Kane County effort would be complete without State’s Attorney Joe McMahon making an unnecessary appearance, because we all know Joe never misses an opportunity to make things worse. It’s part of his vast charm.

But because brevity isn’t my bailiwick and I have other things to do (hard to believe, right?), you’re gonna have to wait till Wednesday to read the thrilling final conclusion to this fascinating tale. Same Bat time, same Bat channel!

I can hardly wait!

The First Ward Report – How to cancel the cancel culture

I have to say I look forward to our bi-weekly Sunday grocery shopping sojourns to the Batavia Trader Joe’s. I love it’s more manageable size, their fascinating food options, and the staff, many of whom have toiled there for years, are always pleasant and friendly.

In fact, TJ’s is so much fun I couldn’t begin to imagine how the Cancel Culture could possibly come up with something to put them in their crosshairs. But I should’ve known better because the second I dismissed that thought, those parents’ basement dwelling Hot Pocket eaters said “Hold my beer!”

This time it is was the amusing appellations TJ’s applies to their in-house brand of ethnic foods. To wit, they sell Trader Jose’s enchiladas, Trader Giotto’s spaghetti sauce, and Trader Ming’s kung pao chicken.

It’s one of the plethora of reasons that the Trader Joe’s chain is so successful. I don’t feel nearly as inspired to visit Jewell.

Trader Joes

But after employing those sobriquets for decades, the Cancel Culture caught up with them in the form of a California high school student who posted a Change.org petition insisting TJ’s drop those ethnic names.

This student claimed they create “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuation harmful stereotypes.”

So, now a freakin’ cellphone addicted 17-year-old is driving the cultural and corporate conversation? As if the adults weren’t already freakin’ bad enough! This is exactly why high schoolers should be rarely seen and NEVER heard.

Please also note that starting an online petition is literally the least anyone could do to combat racism.

But instead of falling as flat as it should have, smelling corporate blood, the Cancel Culture leapt upon TJ’s, and the patently puerile press, who can’t even spell the word “journalism” anymore, whipped the Hot Pocket crowd into yet another self-righteous who’s-the-most-woke frenzy.

Faced with that onerous onslaught, TJ’s parent company initially backed down faster than Ellen DeGeneres from a workplace harassment complaint. They said something to the effect of we were gonna phase out those names anyway.

But then something strange and wondrous happened! An even larger number of Trader Joe’s customers cancelled the Cancel Culture by submitting their own petitions and emails explaining just how much they enjoyed those whimsical names. And just like Cindy Lou Who’s effect on the Grinch, their corporate cojones grew three times their size and TJ’s declared they’d keep those appellations after all.

Bereft of the mob mentality that empowers and drives them, like that suddenly curtain-less Wizard of Oz, the now terrified cancel culture-ites skittered back into their dark corners like cockroaches confronted with a bright kitchen light.

Then, though I’d never recommend threatening anyone online, much less a teenager, liberals and conservatives alike savaged our intrepid high schooler who claimed she was “surprised” by the counterreaction.

That’s probably a better lesson than anything she’s ever learned in school, too!

You see, in the end, the Cancel Culture is nothing more than a case of the political stars occasionally aligning such that people who’ve never had real power have temporary power over those who do. But because wisdom isn’t part of their equation, they wield it like a weapon and not a catalyst for change.

And they truly savor those brief minutes when they can destroy other peoples’ lives.

These are the sons and daughters of the parents who fully bought into that 1980s California Self-Esteem movement lie that children could develop self-worth without having to earn it. They are the progeny of the parents who presented them with a dozen roses simply for singing in that annual first-grade music program choir.

The Cancel Culture is the inevitable result of grown up participation trophy kids who were showered with all sorts of accolades awards and accolades for simply showing up.

But then a strange thing happened! These children, who were endlessly told they were “special” in grade, middle, high school, and even college, walked directly onto that real-world rake only to be smacked squarely on the forehead by a swiftly unraveling lie.

They weren’t special. In fact, they were barely average. They had no clue the best thing that ever happened to Michael Jordan was being cut from his high school basketball team. He took that failure and turned it into the kind of inspiration to become the NBA’s greatest.

Since no one ever told them they were “wrong,” they weren’t equipped to look into the bathroom mirror and say, “Whoa! This isn’t going to be easy, but all the evidence indicates success will not be simply thrust upon me. It requires hard work, perseverance, and most of all, a willingness to risk failure! I need to start making the appropriate adjustments pronto!”

Nope! These overly entitled folks took another tack. If they couldn’t succeed, then no one could. So, rather than make an effort to improve, they realized they could feel better about themselves if they brought down successful people who had the temerity to incur their wrath for something they did 20 years ago.

But just like it is with any addiction, the Cancel Culture will continue to get crazier until it finally implodes upon itself.

And all it takes to hasten that collapse is for people like us to stand up to them in the same way Trader Joe’s customers convinced corporate not to cave. And what’ve the consequences been…? That’s right zero! Because the only power this mob really has is intimidation. Once you pull back the Wizard’s curtain, you quickly realize they ain’t got nuthin’

The George Floyd tragedy and the pandemic have provided them with the opportunity to slither out of their corners one more time. That means it’s up to us to send them scurrying back.

 

The First Ward Report – Quick Hits

And then there were nine!

With Glen Ellyn State Rep Terra Costa Howard leading the First Cavalry Division charge and Aurora State Rep Stephanie Kifowit answering that bugle call, last week, we wondered if any other Springfield Dems would have the courage to join their rank and call for Speaker Michael Madigan’s resignation.

And seven more have:

  • Naperville State Rep Anne Stava-Murray
  • Chicago State Reps Kelly Cassidy, Yoni Pizer, and Lindsey LaPointe
  • Grayslake State Senator Melinda Bush
  • Chicago State Senators Heather Steans and Iris Martinez

To be clear, these semi-magnificent seven are not part of what Tribune columnist Eric Zorn calls the “If Troop,” as in the Democrats who believe The Speaker should abdicate only “if” he’s actually convicted of something.

Cassidy echoed Costa Howard’s original theory by stipulating:

When he says he didn’t know what was going on, it may be an excellent legal strategy, but it says he’s bad at his job. He’s supposed to be in charge. He’s the one who manages every little thing in the General Assembly. And all this was going on right under his nose and he was just oblivious to it?”

Did a Democrat really dis The Velvet Hammer is this brazen a manner? Be still my beating heart!

Madigan Comic

With thanks to the Chicago Tribune

But before you’re overcome by this sudden spate of apparent altruism, I’ve spoken with a number of local legislative aides who said our Democratic general assemblypersons are carefully  considering whether Psylla or Charybdis is more dangerous element right now.

For those who aren’t well versed in Greco-Illinoisan mythology, Psylla comes in the form of their constituents who bestowed an abysmal 20 percent approval rating upon the The Speaker in 2019. That means the failure to come forward now could have all sorts of electoral repercussions later.

Of course, Charybdis is none other than Darth Madigan himself who can end a political career with the most fleeting application of The Force. C’mon! Was anyone really fooled by The Speaker “polling” his minions to get their ruminations on his resignation?

Just like a Jeopardy contesting struggling to answer in the form of a question, I hear The Speaker’s single survey question was, “You don’t really want me to resign, now, do you?”

But even though I had my doubts, it looks like Psylla is coming out ahead on this one. Had the rebellion been limited to just Costa Howard and Kifowit, it would’ve been quickly quashed and they would’ve quickly become “examples.” But with nine on board, I could swear I’m starting to hear The Chairman sing ‘My Way:’

And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

I planned each chartered course
Each careful step along the by-way
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

It makes you kinda verklempt, don’t it!

 

Still no economic interest statement

And speaking of silent Democrats, as of this morning, Elgin City Councilman Baldemar Lopez still hasn’t filed his 2019 economic interest statement. With the fine for the failure to report hitting a C-note a day as of May 16, that means Lopez owes the State a mere $8,215.

But who’s counting?

We all know Baldy, as his friends affectionately refer to him, is avoiding that document like a pandemic hotspot because he’d have to cop to being one of those high-profile ComEd lobbyists who got paid 60 grand for doing absolutely nothing if he did.

And who’d want to do that!

As I’ve previously noted, as a journalist who has the occasional good day, I won’t be letting this story go anytime soon!

 

Ya gotta give the Treasurer credit!

I’ve covered this topic a couple of times, but Capitol Fax’s Rich Miller recently reported that Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs returned a record $1 billion in unclaimed property over the last five years. That massive total eclipses the previous record by a whopping 42 percent.

Frerichs regularly notes that at least 25 percent of Illinoisans have a right to lay claim to some of the remaining $3.5 billion in that unclaimed fund. And you can check on that possibility right here!

I would highly encourage you to do just that, too, because, on a whim, I found almost six figures in stock my late mother had “misplaced” in 2015. Then I went back to the site just yesterday and discovered almost $1,500 owed my father who died back in 1990.

That claim is in process.

Excellent job Treasurer Frerichs. Apparently, some elected officials don’t suck!

 

The First Ward Report – Will my son’s generation have standards?

It was during those later Evanston St. Nick’s years that my music accumulation addiction truly took off. I eagerly awaited the days when the nuns would pass out those Scholastic Book Club flyers offering all manner of middle school literature and the occasional 45. I can’t for the life of me remember the first single I bought, but Badfinger’s ‘Straight Up’ containing ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Day After Day’ was my very first LP.

Badfinger was supposed to be the next incarnation of Beatles at the time.

As my vinyl collection and the associated listening time steadily increased, one day, my mother approached me to say that, while the music wasn’t bad, she feared my brothers and I would grow up without having musical standards or enjoying iconic artists.

Considering she grew up listening to legends like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Glenn Miller, her inquiry was a more-than-fascinating proposition. If you consider Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’ to be the opening salvo, Rock and Roll was a mere 16-year-old in 1971, so it was far too early to make that call.

The Beatles were, indeed, more popular than God, but they’d just broken up and their too-short tenure threatened to relegate them to oblivion. Bob Dylan seemed destined for icon-ness, but he was still taking crap from a boatload of folk folks for going electric.

Jimi Hendrix broke and then changed all the rules, but he died after releasing just three studio albums. The Stones were certainly relevant, but they always seemed destined to explode, The Who had yet to release their masterpieces, and though Led Zeppelin was on a tear, releasing three stellar albums between 1969 and 1970, hard rock, as it was called back then, was still in it’s infancy.

So, after thinking about it for a couple of days, the only Rock and Roll icon I managed to come up with to counter my mother was Chuck Berry.

So, why am I deliberating over this philosophical conundrum now you ask? Because fast forwarding to this weekend, my wife pulled out ‘The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ 2009 concerts Blu-ray and every last one of those amazing artists performed what can only be called rock standards.

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Almost Cut My Hair.’ Steve wonder did duets with John Legend, Smokie Robinson, B.B. King, Sting, and Jeff Beck.” The Queen of Soul performed ‘Chain of Fools’ with Annie Lennox, and I got serious goosebumps watching Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel nail ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ despite breaking up 38 long years before.

Then there was Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Sam Moore, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, U2, Patti Smith and Mick Jagger. I wanted to say, “See ma! You were right when you told me to be a writer (I think!), but you were wrong about this one!”

Bono Jagger

But despite her unfounded fear, I find myself wanting to ask my 21-year-old son the very same question.

Before you accuse me of being just another curmudgeonly “that’s not music” old fogey, I dutifully come downstairs to listen to Sirius XM’s Alt Nation every morning! And while I like alternative artists like Weezer, The Strokes, Of Monsters and Men, Mumford & Sons, The Killers, Modest Mouse, Bastille, Post Malone and The Lumineers, with perhaps the exception of Mr. Malone, none of them seem destined for greatness.

I don’t see a burgeoning Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, or U2 among the bunch, and while I still buy some vinyl, those purchases primarily consist of classic rock reissues.

Pop music will always have its superstars like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Drake and Katy Perry, but pop music, by definition, is neither groundbreaking nor socially inspiring. My wife laughs at my enduring love for The Partridge Family, but I’d hardly put them in the category of the artists we watched this weekend.

My mother may have gotten it wrong in 1971, but in my theoretical defense, there was no Internet back then. We’ve all seen what the Web’s done to record companies and drastically shifting music buying habits.

Can you say “streaming services?” I knew you could! I don’t think my son has ever purchased a CD, LP, or even an individual MP3.

During her brief Hall of Fame set, Aretha Franklin gave a shout-out to the late Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary co-founder of Atlantic Records who wrote ‘Chain of Fools.’ Ertegun and Atlantic championed so may rock and soul acts that went onto become the icons who sang the standards.

The Net has done an amazing job of opening up the music and other industries, but with record companies being mere shadows of their former selves, it’s up to the acts themselves to break out now. For example, Lady Gaga regularly recounts how she got her early gigs by calling venues and pretending to be her own British manager.

My wife thinks my theory will turn out to be equally as inaccurate as my mother’s, and I hope she’s right. But even though my Alternative Summer 2020 playlist consists of 68 songs by 54 artists, when my son sits down to watch the 50th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame festivities in 2034, aside from Keith Richard, I truly wonder who the performers will be.

The First Ward Report – Quick Hits!        

Let’s get back to The First Ward’s roots by covering a couple of stories today.

The silence of the Dems

This scenario certainly doesn’t merit the application of the terms “revolution” or “groundswell,” but two courageous Springfield Democrats did break ranks by insisting the soon-to-be-charged Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan resign!

The opening salvo came from Glen Ellyn State Rep Terra Costa Howard who said, “He [Madigan] must take action now to avoid inflicting further damage on the members of the House and the Democratic Party by resigning as speaker.”

And I thought that pronouncement had fallen flatter than Anthony’s Fauci’s bizarre attempt to get us all to wear goggles until yesterday morning when our own Aurora State Rep Stephanie Kifowit followed suit by delivering quite the strident e-letter.

The final paragraph of that missive to The Speaker reads thusly:

I demand you to do the right thing and step down immediately as Speaker of the House. In the event that you do not, and if you choose to seek nomination to this positions again, I will vote against said nomination and will not vote for should your nomination be successful.

All I can say is, “Good for her!”

I really wanted to say, “You go girl!” but then I’d probably be accused of cultural appropriation, misogyny, sexism, old white male patronization, and generally being a scurrilous cad.

kifowit2

Though she can be almost as irritating as I am at times, I tend to hold Ms. Kifowit in the highest regard because her frequent willingness to speak her mind regardless of the political consequences is beyond refreshing. I may not always agree with what she says, but I respect her capacity to, on occasion, reject the too-typical political platitudes.

But since no good deed ever goes unpunished, some Facebook folks are taking Kifowit to task for not issuing this demand BEFORE the ComEd bribery scandal hit all the front pages.

Yes! There are times I believe Stephanie forgets that she wields far more power to change the system than you or I do, and, on occasion, I’ve duly noted that. But my facility to criticize those in positions of power in no way means I’d ask an elected official to commit political suicide. And calling on The Speaker to resign before the ComEd scandal would’ve amounted to just that.

Furthermore, I’m under no delusion that Mr. Madigan actually will talk away, but with two legislators breaking that say-no-evil inertia, it will be fascinating to see if other Springfield Dems step up.

Meanwhile, despite my ever-so-polite entreaties, our Elgin trio of State Senator Cristina Castro, State Rep Anna Moeller and City Councilman Baldemar Lopez continue to remain quieter than an interracial gay couple who just took a wrong turn into an outdoor Trump rally. So much for Castro’s Joint Ethics Commission being anything more than the worst kind of political window dressing.

But enough about them! Here’s to State Rep Stephanie Kifowit for doing the right thing, particularly when no one’s ever referred to The Speaker as “the forgiving kind.”

 

A really nice sendoff

If you have the time, I would highly encourage you to read former Illini assistant basketball coach Rus Bradburd’s touching tribute to former head coach Lou Henson, who passed away earlier this week.

It’s the kind of appreciation that makes me wish I’d met the man! But even though that opportunity never presented itself, I certainly watched Illini basketball back then, in great part, because I love watching Lou!

Henson

We were all amused by the “Lou-do” combover and his perpetual upbeat energy was more than infections. Even in throes of the toughest March Madness competitions, the man never swore, he never berated his players, he never grabbed a player in anger, and he never publicly railed against the referees no matt how errant they might’ve been.

I particularly enjoyed watching the Illinois-Indiana games during the Henson era simply for the vast coaching style juxtaposition between he and the infamous Bobby Knight.

Lou Henson was the kind of man I long to be, but the Universe was intent on providing me with quite a different set of tools. And though I never had the opportunity to shake his hand, my friend Paul Stukel did! Here’s his recollection:

Lou was a remarkably nice man as well as a helluva coach. He and his family lived about 4 houses down from me in Champaign, on Bedford Drive. His decision to pick this (at the time) humble neighborhood, given what he was making as a head coach, says something. He could have lived amongst the Champaign elite if he wanted, but he went humble.

But what I’ll always remember about him was how he took notice of me practicing shooting on our driveway at all hours of the day. (I was obsessed with basketball and knew I had to practice all the time to overcome my many physical limitations.) I’d be out there shooting free throws again and again and again, and he’d drive by and wave.

Once in a while he’d stop and ask how it was going. Then, one day at his summer basketball camp on campus, he pulled me out of general session and used me to demonstrate to the whole camp how to shoot free throws. It was a little intimidating, but I was proud that he chose me. I’ll never forget that.

Yep, Lou was a really great human being.

Thank you Paul, and rest in peace, Coach!

The First Ward Coronavirus Report – Illinois is just fine!

Can anyone tell me what specific electromagnetic law stipulates smoke detector batteries MUST expire only between 2 and 3 a.m? One terrified dog and two errant attempts to identify the chirping culprit later and I finally found – and silenced – the right one. And then the cat started yowling just for good measure!

So, since I’m a little tired this morning, let’s go with a quick and easy COVID-19 report. The current numbers are:

Date  Cases          % Inc      N Cases      Tested     Prevalence Deaths    M%

7/20   162,748          0.7          1,173         34,598      1 in 29.4          6         4.4

7/21   163,703          0.5             955         29,745       1 in 31.1       23         4.4

7/22   165,301          0.9          1,598         39,633       1 in 24.8       23         4.4

7/23   166,925          0.9          1,624         39,706       1 in 24.4       20         4.4

7/24   168,457          0.9          1,532         44,330       1 in 28.9       18         4.3

7/25   169,883          0.8          1,426         38,200       1 in 26.7       12         4.3

7/26   171,424          0.9          1,541         40,844       1 in 26.5         1         4.3

7/27   172,655          0.7          1,231         30,567       1 in 24.8       18         4.2

7/28   173,731         0.6           1,076         28,331       1 in 26.3       30         4.2

If I had to apply a song title to this nine-day data slice, it would be Bob Seeger’s ‘Still the Same!’ New cases are flat, the new case percentage increase hasn’t topped 1 percent since June 2nd,  the prevalence is bouncing between 1 in 25 and 1 in 30, coronavirus deaths continue to trend downward, and as we predicted, the Illinois mortality rate is in full retreat!

Facts Not Fear 3

Should you, like the pandemic panic porn prone press, fear our state is in the throes of some sort of COVID-19 spike, all you have to do is gaze upon the prevalence to immediately disavow yourself of that notion.

When we test more people, we get more positive results – it’s just that simple! Clearly, reopening restaurants, bars and other similar establishments has had absolutely no effect on our new daily case totals or the transmission rate of the disease.

As we predicted, once nursing homes and long-term care facilities finally got a handle on this thing, the Illinois mortality rate has fallen from it’s early July high of 4.8 percent to 4.2 percent. And it will continue to decline.

We’ve also discussed how it’s an evolutionary maladaptation for a communicable disease to kill it’s host because it’s the equivalent of pathogen suicide. Considering that logic, my and a number of Italian Doctors’ contention is that the virus weakening. The declining national mortality rate and COVID ICU bed and ventilator usage remaining near their lows would seem to support that theory, but American researchers say it’s not the case.

You’ll have to come to your own conclusion on this one.

Meanwhile the Illinois ICU/ventilator numbers are even better:

Date       ICU Beds          Ventilators

7/20          320                         142

7/21          337                         132

7/22          309                         135

7/23          325                         115

7/24          341                         110

7/25          345                         119

7/26          350                         124

7/27          329                         128

Not only are we far from capacity in this regard, but every time a number pops, it seems to go right back down the very next day.

With testing settling into a 36,000-daily result average, the five-day moving average has become meaningful again, too:

Date             5-day Avg

7/20                 1,213

7/21                 1,153

7/22                 1,194

7/23                 1,263

7/24                 1,377

7/25                 1,427

7/26                 1,427

7/27                 1,471

7/28                 1,362

The press is using the term “rolling average” which ain’t what it’s called! Regardless, we’re looking at data that’s even flatter than the local Northern Illinois landscape.

So, despite the Governor consistently crying wolf, and considering this thing ain’t going away anytime soon, Illinois is doing far better than I thought possible at this five-month stage. With at bar and restaurant comebacks and the lack of anything approximating social distancing failing to solicit any kind of Illinois pandemic spike, there’s very good reason to believe our soon-to-resume schools will similarly become a non-issue.

The bottom line for my family? My Aurora middle-school teacher wife and Aurora University son are looking forward to returning to the halls of academia, and I fully support them in that regard.

Meanwhile, my best advice to you would be to let go of the pandemic’s enduring political implications, consider the facts as presented here and in previous pieces, and make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

The First Ward Report – Old Sith Lords never die, and they don’t fade away, either!

It’s certainly been a fascinating proposition to watch the political vultures slowly circle Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan’s not-yet-quite-cold corpse. But as amusing as that brand of schadenfreude can be, just like it is with any Sith Lord, their shadow tends to linger long after their inevitable untimely demise.

Put more simply, if the Feds somehow managed to put Madigan in the pokey tomorrow, the Illinois skies wouldn’t summarily clear, the sun wouldn’t shine any brighter, those angelic hosts wouldn’t break into song, and your property tax bill won’t be going down.

Darth Madigan 2

Former Governor Bruce Rauner never understood that Darth Madigan was but a symbol and a symptom, not the disease itself. He thought he could undo thirty years of systemic Republican aided and abetted corruption in just with his mystical billionaire Force, but his efforts to turn just one Democratic Padawan to the Light Side were no match for the Sith Lord’s dark power.

He may be the last of his Machine boss kind, but even if The Speaker vanished tomorrow and the General Assembly embarked upon an immediate crusade to restore balance to the Illinois Force, it would take the better part of two decades to undo the devastating Democratic damage that’s brought this state to the brink of bankruptcy.

But those Springfield Dems have no intention of pursuing anything of the sort.

When the Feds finally put him away, and this time they will, the gale force power vacuum suckage will become the catalyst for the kind of pitched political battle that’ll make the 1983 Chicago City Council Wars look like child’s play!

Given his there-can-only-be-one mentality, with no clear successor, whomever does manage to inherit the Madigan mantel will be but a shade of The Velvet Hammer. As Bill Yeats duly noted, “The center won’t hold” and that Machine influence will be consistently eroded through the inevitable political infighting.

But don’t expect “Mere anarchy to be loosed on Illinois,” either, because those Democrats know exactly on which side their campaign bread is buttered. They’re not about to let go of that power for lack of an iron-fisted leader. In fact, I think it would be safe to say there won’t be a demonstrable downstate Democratic decline for at least a decade.

We’ve repeatedly discussed the real source of The Speaker’s power here, but most folks – and a surprising number of elected officials – still believe he wields an undue mythological “Force,” but it’s his electoral ground game that’s allowed him to succeed at the equivalent of herding cats. The Speaker can get you elected, and he can get you unelected, and every last one of his minions understands that stark reality.

Former State Rep Ken Dunkin foolishly tried to test that theory and we all know what happened to him!

So, while the lack of an heir apparent will be problematic for the post-Madigan Dems, his crack campaign team ain’t about to go anywhere soon! With the Illinois Central Republican Party more fractured than Alex Smith’s leg and GOP candidates’ insipid insistence on clinging to silly social issues, Springfield Democrats will continue to win elections for the foreseeable future.

Hope and change have never been a staple of Illinois politics.

What will be interesting, however, is if The Speaker’s imminent departure means the final extinction of that traditionally water carrying worker bee known as the “precinct committeeman.” Much like the Ewoks did the Empire in on Endor, it’s those noble PCs who perform the bulk of Madigan’s magic.

They’ve been the silent backbone of the Chicago Machine for decades.

Whenever a Libertarian, Green Party, protest, or minority candidate comes to me claiming they’re gonna get elected and change the world, my automatic response is, “Then you need to run a slate of precinct committeemen,” because he or she who controls the PCs, controls the Party, and he or she who controls the Party tends to gets their candidates elected.

And all it takes is ten signatures, too!

But as we sit here today, only 13 of Geneva Township’s 21 precincts can boast an elected Republican precinct committeemen, and while those folks love the title and the capacity to elect Party leaders, they’re not about to walk their precinct or knock on doors for anyone.

Who has time for that?

Meanwhile, on the rare occasion The Speaker actually faces an opponent, you’ll swiftly see his yard signs prominently displayed on every last district front lawn. That’s the power of active and loyal precinct committeemen.

If the Speaker’s successor fails to heed this “from small things baby, big things one day come” ground game dynamic, the consequent Democratic demise will take half the time it would have otherwise.

What I’m saying is, even though a post-apocalyptic Springfield won’t be nearly as much fun without Mad Mike at the helm, please don’t, for a second, believe that, just like Resurrection Mary, his specter won’t continue haunt those hallowed capitol building hallways for years.

To quote legendary 43rd Ward Chicago Alderman Paddy Bauler, “Illinois ain’t ready for reform.”

The First Ward Recommendation Report – Small businesses you should know!

Since we’re all so sick of pandemics, presidential races, and Springfield shenanigans, I thought it would be a lot more fun to cover some local small business truly deserving of our collective attention and patronage. And that’s particularly true at a time when these fine folks have all taken the obvious economic hit.

But wait! There’s more!

Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, it does! Because my good friend and the other half of the Ward and Wright comedy team will provide us with passages on two Geneva, Illinois, businesses he’s become quite fond of!

I can’t wait! So, let’s get started!

Support Local Business

1. Vargo’s Dance

Nestled in the heart of beautiful downtown Geneva (northwest corner of State and Second Streets), Vargo’s Dance Studio is one of my favorite places on the planet, and owner and instructor extraordinaire, Jamie Vargo, is one of my favorite people on the planet.

Jamie Vargo

Jamie Vargo

Vargo’s Dance specializes in couples dancing generally applying the Salsa, Swing, or Hustle methodologies. They do not offer children’s classes, however. Reservation only group lessons have recently restarted without the traditional partner rotation for all the obvious reasons.

So, if you’re interested, and you certainly should be, check out their online schedule, grab your favorite dance counterpart, email Jamie to make August reservations, and you’ll be good to go! Don’t let your hubby back out either, because, As Ms. Vargo likes to say, “These beginner classes are quite husband friendly!”

Having already made our reservations, my lovely wife and I will be participating in this evening’s $15 per person (7/24) cash only 7 p.m. BYOB beginner swing lesson. The remarkable Carl Linder will lead the festivities with Jamie right beside him to reasonably keep him in line.  (Good luck, Jamie!)

My wife and I take private lessons from Ms. Vargo, as well, and if she can teach me how to dance…

Aside from the getting the heck out of the house and sheer fun of it aspects, 1.5 years of dancing has had some significantly positive side effects. Sure! My wife suddenly seems a lot less likely to throw my sorry butt out of the house, but I’m a far better – and much looser – athlete, too!

Running now takes far less “effort” and I’m proud to report I’m generally injury free. Better yet, my shoulder impingement syndrome and minor hand and wrist arthritis have virtually disappeared as a result of that regular full-body movement.

Dancing truly is the fountain of youth because physically, I feel like I’m 35 again! Put more simply, I simply can’t recommend Vargo’s Dance enough! See you there!

2. Amanda Leutenberg

Amanda isn’t as much a company or store – though she has a temporary location – as she is an incredibly talented artist specializing in woodworking pieces. In fact, the “serial killer” plaque I so enjoyed sharing on Facebook was her work.

Serial Killer 2

 

Meanwhile, her equally talented daughter, Kyle, crafts the finest boards, one of which is prominently placed on this cook’s kitchen counters, while husband Chris comes up with all manner of wonderfully handmade wooden boxes.

Amanda’s recent Etsy store push racked up a massive 898 sales in a very short time, and now she’s getting wholesale orders from other store owners!

If you want to see Amanda’s work for yourself, she’s set up through December in one of those small temporary Batavia rental shops at Route 25 and Wilson Street. Her store hours are:

  • Friday     10 to 6
  • Saturday  9 to 5
  • Sunday   12 to 4

There’s nothing better in life than seeing good friends succeed, and I firmly believe the sky is the limit for this exceptionally talented family!

 

But why listen to me ramble on again when you can listen to Bill Wright, instead? Here are two of his favorite Geneva operations:

3. Galena Garlic Company

I was pleased when Jeff Ward asked me to write about my dear friend, Laszlo Marton’s business, Galena Garlic Company, a family-owned concern established in Galena, Illinois, in 2003. Laszlo’s mission is to sell U. S. grown garlic and carry products that help people cook healthy, delicious, and simple meals. His business has grown to include stores in Nashville, Tennessee, Madison, Indiana, and, of course, one right here in downtown Geneva (318 West State Street).

Galena Garlic Co. Geneva, IL | Galena, Kane county, Geneva

When you walk into one of Laszlo’s stores, you’re welcomed as an extended family member by a fantastic staff that defines customer service. You can start by sampling certified extra virgin olive oils infused with a wide variety of flavors and all manner of balsamic vinegars. My favorite is the garlic olive oil.

The GG team is well-versed in the crush date and chemistry of these oils, so you know you’re getting nothing but the best – everything is always fresh and they never use additives. Galena Garlic also sells over 300 different gourmet blends, as well as a wide variety of rubs, seasonings, and artisan salts. Don’t forget to check out their soup and soaps while you’re there!

GC just harvested the garlic at their Elizabeth, Illinois, and Clark Range, Tennessee, farms, and trust me! You haven’t had garlic until you’ve had freshly grown garlic. They’re taking orders right now, so send Laszlo, or his daughter Nina, an e-mail at garlic911@gmail.com to reserve yours!

One last thing! Galena garlic generally hosts the Midwest Garlic Festival in Elizabeth during the first weekend in August, but this year Laszlo will host a Virtual Garlic Festival from August 8 through the 15th with other Midwest garlic farmers taking part. You can find all the Garlic Fest details on Galena Garlic’s Facebook or Instagram pages.

Don’t forget to visit their website at www.galenagarlic.com.

4. Art History Brewing

Two weeks ago, my wife and I set out to have a Friday afternoon beer at a Brother Chimp Brewing Company in North Aurora, and we enjoyed it very much! The owner of that establishment graciously referred us to another one just up the road in Geneva, so we ventured off to Art History Brewing (649 West State Street).

And I’m happy to report we were quite pleased we visited this excellent establishment.

The proprietor, Tom Rau, started as a homebrewer and took his passion to Munich, studying at the prestigious Siebel/World Brewing Academy. After graduating with a diploma in International Brewing Technology in 2018, Tom planned to open his own brewery, and this year, Art History Brewing became a reality.

Art History Brewing and Taproom

Being quite the beer snob (I, Jeff Ward can attest to that!), I highly recommend this microbrewery. My favorite offering was their Gravitace, a Czech style Lager.

Having lived in Germany in my youth, I can personally attest that this beer compares quite favorably to any of the great pilsners I had in Europe. I truly hope it stays on the menu as I plan on bringing home a “growler” (large jar of beer) every time we visit.

Rest assured, my wife and I will hurry back to Art History to sample their other fantastic beers soon!  Please check them out at www.arthistorybrewing.com and I will post more about them on my Facebook group page, Wright Deck Beers.

Prosit! Art History Brewing!

 

Thank you Bill Wright for masterfully taking over half of today’s column. Are you available for this kind of thing, on a regular basis!

And speaking of a regular basis, Bill suggested I make these local business profile pieces much more of a habit, and I think he’s right. Just don’t tell him I said that because he tends to get a big head. So, if you own a small Kane County business, or you want me to promote your favorite business, just drop me a line here, and I’ll be happy to write ‘em up!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice the step, kick, cross, slide swing move for this evening. The last time I accidentally whacked my wife in the side of the head she chased me all the way around the block!