Quick Hits – 7-24-17 Rak Trial Supplemental

There’s been so much to write about, I’m gonna post a special Sunday Quick Hits edition so I can keep up with the Rak murder trial curve and move on to more things. Enjoy!

The Rak Trial continues

It wouldn’t be fair to say it’s like encountering the proverbial car crash no one can take their eyes off of, because both sides are technically competent. So, let’s call my consistent Rak murder trial attendance something more akin to a moth and flame kinda thing. Because, let me tell ya, watching how that justice system “sausage” is made is far more terrifying than any of you might imagine.

Rak

That said, there were are a couple of interesting moments at the end of last week’s festivities.

The first was, upon receiving their pizza dinner order delivery, the jurors discovered the words “they’re innocent” scrawled on the inside cover of one of the boxes. But After being individually interviewed by Judge D. J. Tegeler, the jurors essentially said they thought it was a joke and it didn’t affect them in the least.

Personally, I’m far more disturbed by the fact that someone actually got 15 jurors to agree on anything less than 15 pizzas. That sounds like science fiction to me. Meanwhile, the St. Charles Police are working on this one and someone soon won’t have a pizza making or delivery job.

And  our second incident is why you NEVER want a jury trial. One of the alternate jurors asked court security if defendant Daniel Rak got to go home every night. C’mon! How can a raging alcoholic who lives in squalor (they’ve seen the pictures) somehow come up with the $95,000 bond the first-degree murder charge required?

Instead of simply remaining silent, the officer incorrectly explained that Mr. Rak was, indeed, released every evening and Judge Tegeler had to contend with that issue as well.

Meanwhile back at the trial ranch, the defense team and Public Defender Kelli Childress hit the ball out of the park, straight to centerfield no less, when they chose Dr. Douglas Miller as their medical brain expert. The guy was virtually prefect:

·         When prosecutor Alex Bederka tried to demean and cut him off during his expert witness foundation testimony, Miller chewed him up and spit him out in no uncertain terms. It was like watching The Rock slap Justin Bieber around.

·         I’ve never seen anyone so consistently take the shortest distance between two points when explaining complicated medical concepts. And he did it in a way that a remedial sixth-grader could understand it.

·         He never stumbled over his words, he never hesitated before saying something, and, unlike our two attorneys, he addressed the jury directly at every turn. And none of what he said sounded rehearsed.

·         So the rapt jury was putty in his hands. And the icing on the testimony cake was, he spoke just softly enough that the jury had to lean in and slightly strain to hear him. If the good doctor did that on purpose, not only is he a medical expert’s expert, but he’s a fucking genius.

Then, Dr. Miller went on to effectively describe at least five separate ailments that could’ve killed Jeffrey Rak on that fateful day. Finally messaging correctly, Childress consistently tipped that multiple-possible-causes-of-death-ball in with, “But we’ll never know because the coroner never ran those tests and the body’s been cremated.”

It was as close to a Perry Mason moment as you’ll ever see in real life.

So, while the defense had been doing their damndest to lose the jury the prosecution lost on the second day, Dr. Miller brought them screaming back. Whatever the Kane County taxpayer had to come up with to bring in this expert was well worth it when you consider that justice should always prevail.

Next step for Jeff Ward, closing statements! Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be back in court tomorrow.

To be fair, I wasn’t there for the prosecution’s expert witness, but in 11 journalistic years, I’ve never seen a better communicator than Dr. Miller. Politicians should go to his forensic seminars just to listen to him talk!

Unless the defense has another expert or two up their sleeves, the trial should be moving on to the prosecution and defense rebuttal phases. All I can say is, if I’m Kelli Childress, I’d keep my rebuttal as short as possible so that Dr. Miller’s testimony is as fresh in the Jury’s minds as possible.

Then, my entire closing statement would consist of repeating the good doctor’s testimony verbatim. Why mess with perfection?

Quick Hits’ Ten-Minute Law School

If you’re sitting on the law school fence, here’s what I want you to do! Sit in on a multi-day trial. It doesn’t matter what trial because all lawyers are basically the same person – with the exception of my amazing attorneys Amanda, Brick and Jeff, of course.

I promise, after just two short days of that unique brand of mental torture, you’ll forever disavow the notion of practicing any kind of law whatsoever. At least that’s the effect observing the Daniel Rak murder trial has had on me.

Kane County Judicial Center

For those unfortunate souls who insist upon a legal career, in the vein of Father Guido Sarducci’s Five-Minute University, I’m gonna offer you the keys to the trial kingdom. You see, despite my utter lack of a law degree, my minimal intelligence (readers tell me this), and my surly manner, I could beat 90 percent of Kane County attorneys in a jury trial.

That ain’t bragging, either! It’s a sad commentary on the current situation. So, buckle your seatbelts because this is gonna be a long one. Here goes!

1. When you’ve made your point move on!

When both sides basically concede the defendant’s father was a blackout, falling down drunk, there’s no need to re-argue that point – for a full hour – two days into the trial.

First, it puts The Bard’s famous line, “Methinks thou doth protest too much,” into play, and second, you lose the jury to the point where they’re more interested in a court security conversation and who’s entering and exiting the courtroom than the trial.

Furthermore, when three separate big screen TVs are displaying a picture of the decedent lying on the floor, even the average juror can figure out he falls down. I wanted to blurt something out to that effect, but I don’t think Judge Tegeler would’ve appreciated that kind of intercession. Or perhaps he would’ve been grateful that I finally moved things along – you never know!

 

2. You don’t have to win every point

Because when you try to win every point, not only does your core message become completely obscured, but those fine jury folks start wondering if they’re dealing with two bitchy sixth graders who don’t play well with others. Then they start tuning you out.

I understand foundation must be built, but I could barely keep track of 1.5 hours of testimony, and that jury will be sitting there for the better part of seven days – or more. Just let it go! It isn’t a boxing match where the points count.

 

3. Don’t object, rebut or impeach unless it’s meaningful

I understand the judicious use of objections can disrupt the other guy’s cadence and set the groundwork for an appeal, but 90 percent of rebutting, impeaching and objecting is  utterly unnecessary. Unless it really makes a difference, all it serves to do is highlight the opposition’s point, making it seem far more important than it really is.

So here’s the rule! If what’s about to come out of your mouth does not move, reinforce or reiterate your core message, don’t say it!

 

4. Be prepared!

Even the Boy Scouts understand this basic precept.

You’re on a roll with a witness and the jury’s buying his testimony, but when it’s time to start submitting those exhibits, you discover they’ve been randomly placed in two large boxes. This, of course, leads to a ten-minute courtroom silence while you try to sort them out.

Meanwhile, your second chair, who hasn’t done much but sit there, could’ve prepared it all, but she chose not to bother.

So, what are the jurors thinking? That’s right! “Holy fuck, if he can’t get this right, why should I believe anything he says?”

 

5. Use all the courtroom space!

You may possess the most formidable courtroom presence on the planet, but that power is decidedly diluted if you’re standing behind a table or lectern every time you speak. And that’s especially true if the table is half your height.

So, within the bounds of judicial reason, MOVE AROUND THE COURTROOM during direct and redirect.

That jury is trapped in that box for hours at a time while they’re forced to listen to testimony that’s generally over their heads. If you just stand there, you become part of the courtroom scenery. But if you’re “kinetic,” the jury will follow you as you move, which means they’ll actually pay attention.

I’m not saying you should behave like a squirrel trying to cross Randall Road at rush hour, but Bruce Springsteen doesn’t just stand there when he sings “Born to Run,” either.

You need your notes in front you, you say? Bring your bleepin’ legal pad with you.

 

6. Craft a core message and stick to it!

I used to think the late Johnny Cochran was kind of a courtroom clown, but as a professional campaign manager, I’ve come to understand his genius. “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” is fucking brilliant.

Think about the best political slogans; “Yes we can,” “Hope and change,” “It’s morning again in America,” “It’s the economy, stupid” and “All the way with LBJ.” They’re short, sweet, simple and memorable.

And they all managed to penetrate the average American attention span which is pretty much the equivalent of an off-meds ADHD sixth-grader coming off a three-day sugar and video gaming binge.

Considering the litany of life threatening ailments attributed to Jeffrey Rak, we’re I the defense, my simple message would be, “No one could possibly pinpoint the cause of death 52 hours after the fact.”

And I would have said it in various iterations over and over and over again. Look at Donald Trump! If you repeat something often enough people start to believe it.

 

7. The jury is all that matters

While the attorneys frequently engage in a meaningless tit-for-tat battle over meaningless points, I haven’t seen either side look at the jury once since opening statements. Despite the fact they hold Daniel Rak’s life in their hands, the prosecution and defense act as if they don’t exist.

I don’t get it!

I’m not sayin’ leap into their laps, but why not make eye contact during testimony? Walk by them, smile at them, address them directly. Connect with them whenever possible. When appropriate, let them know a little bit about your own struggle so they can connect with you.

There’s no way they’re going to remember every bit of testimony, but they will remember an attorney who acknowledges their humanity and effort in a court system that generally does neither.

Just like it is with a political campaign, a jury trial is nothing more than an endeavor to convince those folks to vote in your favor, and you have to effectively communicate your message to persuade them to do that. And communication comes in many different forms.

All I can tell you is, the candidate with whom voters would most like to have a beer generally wins the race. So why would any rational attorney ignore the jury until closing arguments?

 

Now, let’s go back to the Rak case specifics.

The prosecution’s problem is, not only have they completely failed to connect with the jury, they’ve alienated them. All it takes is one holdout for a mistrial and a unanimous verdict is going to be a very high hurdle in this one.

But the defense has a serious problem too. They’re essentially trying to polish a turd. That isn’t a judgement, it’s simply the truth. The Rak family dysfunctional dynamic makes my fascinating upbringing look like the Brady Bunch with sprinkles.

If the defense loses the jury, something that’s already happening, those folks are going to start thinking, “We’d be much better off with this kind of white trash in jail.”

So there you have it! And it was a lot less expensive than real law school, too! But since it was almost as long winded as some attorneys are, I’ll quickly conclude by saying I’m officially available as a trial consultant specializing in jury communication.

I’m not kidding!

Quick Hits – July 19, 2017

Rak opening statements

The good news is, I managed to be in court yesterday for the Daniel Rak murder trial opening statements without having to endure a Daily Herald reporter’s verbal and almost physical assault. It’s the small things in life, right?

And BTW, in an effort not to go all Melville on you, I’m going to assume you’ve been keeping up with my coverage of this case. If not, simply enter “Rak” into the blog search box and have at it.

Rak

Daniel Rak

Since the prosecution leads off, KCSAO prosecutor Alex Bederka had the first shot at the jury. On the plus side, he was brief which, when you consider the average American attention span, was a very good thing.

His opening statement was competent, but Bederka couldn’t make eye contact with the jury, he certainly didn’t connect with them and he blasted them with the gory details right out of the gate.

This, of course, begs the question, do you remember who serves on juries? People who aren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.

So when you hit 13 regular folks, who are nervous about their statutory predicament and faced with holding a young man’s life in their hands, with a full broadside, it’s not a great start. I’m not saying the prosecution can’t recover, but…

When you consider that Public Defender Kelli Childress actually had me – the curmudgeonly 11-year journalist Jeff Ward – teary eyed at one point, that lack of a prosecutorial personal touch does not bode well for Bederka.

In her opening statement, Childress somehow turned the massively dysfunctional Rak family dynamic into a fairy tale. It’s a risk, because, just like it is in politics, provoking a visceral reaction is a lot like a North Korean missile test – you never know where it’s gonna go.

But just when I thought Childress won the case before it started, she went on twice as long as she should have and she presented too much technical medical evidence too soon. It wasn’t a make or break proposition and the defense is still ahead, but it did keep the prosecution in the game.

And Judge Tegeler behaved too!

The bottom line is, Childress can be a formidable courtroom presence, while Bederka seems to struggle with the basics in a case that isn’t a slam dunk.

I will endeavor to get back to courtroom 311 as much as I can, but I’m finding it a bit difficult to keep up with my business coach, Brian Basilico and he comes first.

 

Those charges never shoulda been filed!

The singular sentiment that struck me as I listened to those opening arguments was the eminently clear fact that Daniel Rak should NEVER have been charged with murder. A domestic violence misdemeanor? Maybe!

I realize that opening and closing statements are persuasion and not evidence, but if a mere half of the life-threatening ailments Childress attributed to Jeffrey Rak (the father) are true, the best MD on the planet with the best equipment on the planet couldn’t possibly pinpoint the specific cause of death.

mcmahon

Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon

Then, when you consider the fact the elder Rak didn’t die until 52 hours after the confrontation with his son, I cannot believe any State’s Attorney with any semblance of a conscience would’ve OK’d murder charges.

And first degree murder charges to boot!

C’mon! If you go by the prosecutor’s own opening statement, there clearly was no intent nor premeditation on the part of Daniel Rak. At best, this is an involuntary manslaughter case and even that would be a stretch.

So, what we have here is another case of Kane County State’s Attorney Office malfeasance in which Joe Cullen’s and Joe McMahon’s “Screw it! We’ll Let the judge and jury sort ‘em out” mentality and utter refusal to do the right thing means a man unnecessarily sits in jail while facing the fight of his life.

Meanwhile, Cullen and McMahon are too busy prosecuting the LaQuan McDonald case in Cook County – on the Kane County taxpayers’ dime – to pay much attention.

That all seems fair, doesn’t it?

 

Daily Herald diversity? Nope!

Since I seem to have to set ground rules for how Daily Herald reporters should behave in public, I recently emailed Paddock Publication management to let them know exactly where we stood on the whole Harry Hitzeman thing. That list went like this:

  • Daniel E. Baumann – Chairman Emeritus
  • Douglas K. Ray – Chairman/Publisher
  • Robert Y. Paddock, Jr – Vice Chairman/Executive Vice President
  • Scott T. Stone – President/COO
  • Kent L. Johnson – Senior Vice President
  • Colin M. O’Donnell – Senior Vice President
  • John Lampinen – Senior Vice President
  • Stefanie S. Anderson – Senior Vice President
  • James J. Galetano – Senior Vice President
  • Stuart R. Paddock III – Senior Vice President

First, I’m starting to think this organization has more senior vice presidents than reporters, and second, what did you notice about that list? That’s right! Nine old white guys and one white woman. There isn’t an African-American, an Hispanic, a Muslim, an Indian or as much as an Asian on that list!

Rock

Before you hit me with any insipid, “How to you know they’re all Caucasian” comment, I Googled all their pictures. And from the looks of it, none of ‘em are gay, either, because gay men dress better and they’re in much better shape.

So the next time the DH calls out the City of Elgin for a lack of diversity, there’s just one word that applies – “hypocrite.”

Quick Hits – The Rak murder trial begins

This piece was originally supposed to run yesterday (7/18), so I’m going to run it a little earlier today (7/19) because the Rak trial is now officially underway.

In fact, I’d be there this morning (7/18), but all they’re doing is jury selection and it would be far too depressing to watch that race to the bottom of the American genepool. Nothing shrieks ‘Idiocracy’ (it’s a movie – look it up) like voir dire.

Kane County Judicial Center

Kane County Judicial Center

In his highly underrated follow up to cheers, Ted Danson’s Becker M.D. character can’t figure out how to get out of jury duty. Then he discovers they’ll let him go sooner if he actually serves on a trial, but his efforts to do so are met with insistent rejection.

As he’s being voir dired again, Danson’s “I was reading a book…” response was interrupted by a sharp “Next!” and then you hear a loud “Damn!” as the camera fades out.

Jury of my peers my ass! But I digress.

Once the opening statements start coming, you can bet your sweet bippie I’ll be there as often as time permits, because this already fascinating case is bound to get even better. The local press certainly doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

Meanwhile, let’s review the players:

1. Judge D. J. Tegeler

The eminent irony here is, His Honor’s obvious disdain for female public defenders means he tends makes up his mind up before hearing the whole story, which means we already have two clear cases of reversible error.

And those Second Appellate Court judges have a reputation for applying the letter of the law, too. The problem is, if it does get to the appeal point, it becomes a de facto two- to three-year jail sentence for defendant Daniel Rak.

Meanwhile, somebody needs to tell Tegeler that the black dress doesn’t automatically confer the right to become a bully. Oh wait! I did that and His Honor took the private note to the State’s Attorney in an effort to have me charged.

We journalists get no love!

2. Prosecutor Alex Bederka

Who has the legal acumen of Cliff Clavin and all the personal skills of Peter Francis Geraci.

Though he doesn’t get to make the final call, in typical KCSAO fashion, this case harbors all the kind of reasonable doubt that means murder charges never should have been filed.

How is anyone going to prove that a blackout drunk with a laundry list of major medical problems died due to any one specific reason? But since Alex has no heart, KCSAO Criminal Division chief Joe Lulves has no brain, and KCSA Joe McMahon has no courage, the trial will go forward.

As long as the defense has the slightest grasp of the fading art of letting the other side hang themselves, justice should prevail, because, given the opportunity, Bederka will utterly alienate the jury.

Not only that, but when it comes to crunch time, Alex has a propensity to cut and run as demonstrated by his last minute “withdrawal” from a celebrity boxing match with Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. Not only did he chicken out, but he left the charity standing high and dry.

Richard would’ve kicked his ass, but that’s not the point.

3. Public Defender Kelli Childress

Who may well be the only attorney who can make Bederka look likeable!

Don’t get me wrong, she’s one of the most brilliant defense attorneys I’ve ever watched work – and this writer rarely applies that adjective. But her propensity to let her passion for the job and her clients get the best of her almost always backfires.

“But Jeff! You’re one of the least likeable people I’ve ever met. Isn’t this a vastly ironic case of the pot calling the kettle black?”

First, I love your use of the word “ironic.” Second, I alienate people on purpose because I generally don’t like them. And third, I don’t have defendants putting their freedom in my hands.

In essence, a defense attorney is “campaigning” for their client. That means crafting a “message” that resonates with the jury, which is simple, direct and repeatedly hammered home.

To make those messaging matters much more difficult, as it is with the voting public, the average American juror is the equivalent of an off-meds ADHD sixth grader coming off a three-day sugar and video gaming binge.

Why do you think “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” worked?

So, if the defense wastes the jury’s time, ignores their limited attention span, or battles the judge and the prosecutor to the point they become unlikeable, they’re gonna lose regardless of the evidence or lack thereof.

So now that I’ve set the scene, it’s time to watch the trial unfold. As I like to say, I’ll keep you posted!

 

Post Script:

I was there for the opening statements today and:

  • Bederka was brief.
  • Childress, who bleepin’ knows how to connect with a jury, was a bit longwinded as she took a risky position that could pay dividends.
  • And Judge Tegeler finally reminded me of the guy who was my attorney and friend for 12 years.

Perhaps justice will prevail!

Quick Hits – July 17, 2017 – DH reporter Harry Hitzeman tries to assault Jeff Ward

You have to understand that I was utterly intent on running a column covering the start of the Daniel Rak murder trail. But that effort was preempted by Daily Herald reporter Harry Hitzeman’s insistence upon demanding my complete and undivided attention.

Harry Hitzeman

Daily Herald reporter Harry Hitzeman

The irony being that a reporter who calls all sorts of folks out for all sorts of reasons was so thin skinned, he came damn close to assaulting me in a Kane County Judicial Center elevator. Why, I even had to ask court security to intervene.

Before any of you bleeps say, “There’s gotta be another side to this story,” it was all captured on videotape. So lying would do me no damned good. I’ll run the Rak story tomorrow., but since I suddenly seem to be famous, we’ll go with my statement to the Kane County Sheriff’s Office for now.

 

Kane County Sheriff’s Witness Statement Report

On July 17, 2017 at approximately 2:45 P.M., the following series of events took place at the Kane County Judicial Center at 37W777 IL-38, St Charles:

1 I, Jeff Ward, of Geneva, Illinois, in my capacity as a journalist, was attending the voir dire process at the Daniel Rak trial in courtroom 311. About 2:40, Daily Herald reporter Harry Hitzeman showed up and, when directed to sit next to me in the only available seat in the last row, Harry asked everyone else to move down. I was fine with that decision.

2. Five minutes later, Judge Tegeler declared a recess and asked court security and his bailiffs to clear the courtroom. Since I was at the far east side of the last bench, I was the last one out of the courtroom. When I exited 311, Hitzeman was leaning against the opposite doorway watching everyone as they walked out. He was intent on a confrontation. We did catch each other’s eye, but I simply walked by to the third floor elevator.

3. As the southern elevator door opened, I heard running or very quick walking directly behind me. As I turned around, I noted Hitzeman jumped into the elevator. I wouldn’t say he charged me, but he was intent on making his presence known. We were the only two people in the elevator the entire way down.

4. I simply leaned against the back wall and looked up ignoring Hitzeman. As the doors closed Hitzeman asked, “What’s your problem – what’s your fucking problem with me.” He was agitated, red-faced and shaking, but I wasn’t about to back down or it would be open season on Jeff Ward. So I simply said:

  • You’re a piece of shit
  • You can’t get a story right
  • You don’t hold yourself to the same standard you hold the people you write about

So then he goes off even more and starts mildly advancing toward me. At this point, I’m ready to defend myself, because I’m clearly alarmed and disturbed that a professional reporter would confront me in public in this manner. That shouldn’t happen on any planet and, since he’s gone this far, I’m wondering where the situation might be headed. Could I have completely shut up? Sure! I wasn’t agitated at all, but again, if Hitzeman could claim he backed me down, it would be open season on Jeff Ward.

5. The elevator reached the ground floor and I quickly moved towards court security asking the officers if they’d intervene in the situation. Hitzeman comes around the corner shouting, “Well there’s one story I got right. It’s the one about you using County money and getting fired from Jack Cunningham’s office.” Hitzeman is slowly advancing towards me, getting redder and shaking even more which is clearly making court security nervous, so they start moving towards him.

6. At that point I turned around a move toward him saying, “Harry you can’t even get that one right – I resigned from the County Clerk’s office.” Then Harry gets even louder yelling “you were fired” over and over again while Court Security intervenes and asks us both where we’re going. I said something to the effect of, “I’m leaving, but I don’t need him following me.” Heitzman said he was going back up to courtroom 311. So he specifically followed me downstairs to confront me about some perceived slight.

 

As you might imagine, I found this entire interaction alarming and disturbing – especially on the part of what’s supposed to be a professional reporter – and unless I make Hitzeman an example by filing disorderly conduct charges against him, this will be only the beginning. It’s one thing if readers confront me, because that’s to be expected. But I cannot do my job if other reporters start calling me out.

Thus, I think it’s critical to press disorderly conduct charges against Harry Hitzeman.

Quick Hits – July 14, 2017

I wanna be a rock critic

I’m going to indulge my inner Greg Kot here and do a brief review of last night’s Queen with Adam Lambert concert at the United Center.

It was fucking great!

 

And though you know I love Driver Tom, there was a bit of a mix up so it all started with Tim and Round Trip Car Service getting us there right on time and ended with them swooping in to pick us up just as we walked out of the venue. (You can find Round Trip at 331-222-7195.)

Then it was up to the Stadium Club for an excellent high-end pre-concert buffet dinner. I particularly enjoyed the Cajun strip steak and sundried tomato risotto.

I will admit I was a bit taken aback by the $30 programs and $55 t-shirts, but that in no way deterred a flock of fans from snapping them up.

Then, with no opening act (massive hint to all the other bands), Queen took the stage at 8:18 and ripped through hit after hit until 10:20. And they performed all of the classics:

  • Killer Queen
  • Fat Bottomed Girls
  • Bicycle Race
  • Another One Bites the Dust
  • I Want it All
  • Somebody to Love
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • Under Pressure
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (with Freddie Mercury)

Then they encored with ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We are the Champions.’

Look, no one can replace Freddie, but I gotta tell ya, Mr. Lambert completely owned those songs and completely kicked ass. And it certainly didn’t hurt that one flamboyant gay male replaced the other.

Before you hit “send,” when Adam came out in a magenta sequined three piece suit, his first comment was, “Isn’t that the fuckin’ gayest thing you’ve ever seen?” Regardless of anything else, Lambert is a massive stage presence that did justice to one of the most legendary catalogs in the annals of rock and roll history.

Meanwhile, spry 69 year-old guitarist Brian May can still make his “red special” do exactly what he wants and Roger Taylor hasn’t lost a step on the drums. One of the evening’s highlights was a duel between Taylor and backup drummer Rufus Taylor of The Darkness.

What I’m sayin’ is, if you have the opportunity to see Queen with Adam Lambert, you’d be a fool to pass it up.

 

And speaking of Greg Kott

Though I sometimes think his best albums of the year list are beyond pretentious, a journalistic friend told me just how generous our Tribune rock critic can be.

KotApparently, he wrote Greg during his high school years asking for advice on how to become a rock critic. Not only did Mr. Kot write back, but he invited our young hopeful down to the Trib for a day of learning the ropes firsthand.

And that’s aces in my book.

 

 

 

And speaking of Tribune writers

You know I generally hate people because, well, with some notable exceptions, they generally suck. The best evidence of this hypothesis is my Facebook blocked list just hit the century mark. Now my goal is for that list to exceed my friends list, but for some strange reason, y’all keep insisting on friending me, which makes that proposition much more difficult.

So, stop it!

Meanwhile, because I don’t despise absolutely everyone, I’ve had the best email conversation with Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens. She’s smart, funny, she’s one of the few journalists who can pull off conversational writing and, most of all, she seems to find me somewhat amusing.

Heidi Stevens

And that’s not a word that’s typically associated with Jeff Ward. Heidi even went as far a promising she’d never tell anyone I’m a nice guy.

But what I don’t get is why someone as delightful as Heidi Stevens regularly receives the kind of hate mail that makes this columnist so jealous. So, stop it! The next person that sends Heidi a dire missive is going to have to contend with me.

And by “contend” I mean having me crash on your couch for a month – and I drink a lot of tequila. Trust me! It won’t be pretty, so be nice!

 

A fidget spinner that makes me fidgety

Enduring an upper back problem that’s made it impossible to run combined with the kind of ADHD that doesn’t respond to medication has made me a bit bitchier than usual.

Yes! It actually is possible.

So, in an effort to stave off familial disaster, my thoughtful 18 year-old son bought me a really nice Chicago Cubs fidget spinner. This, of course, begs the question, “What if your fidget spinner makes you fidget?”

Cubs FidgetYou see, the Cubs kinda suck this year because Manager Joe Maddon has completely lost his mind, the players don’t have that same 2016 swagger, and it’s truly difficult to repeat a championship in any sport, especially baseball. So, in order to enjoy my new fidget spinner and possibly stay married, here’s what I need Theo Epstein to do:

  • Get rid of batting practice pitcher John Lackey. If he can’t figure out he’s got to resort to finesse at the ripe old age of 38, in the words of a famous White Sox announcer, “He gone!”
  • Don’t put Jon Lester in the game until the second inning, because he certainly can’t handle the first. From not being able to throw to first base to this BS? And people think I have issues? He’s nothing more than a $22 million a year mental case.
  • Trade Jake Arrieta while you can still get something for him. At 34, he’s not nearly going to be worth the $29 million a year he’ll be asking on the free agent market. And he’s starting to suck too.
  • Get rid of Pedro Strop who doesn’t begin to understand that keeping the ball up at Wrigley Field never works out too well.
  • Trade Ben Zobrist while some other GM is still stupid enough to go for it. Watching that man attempt to “surround” a fly ball is even more terrifying than watching Donald Trump try to shake hands with world leaders. And even I could hit better than .214 against today’s MLB pitching.
  • Keep Jon Jay – NOT ANTHONY RIZZO – in the leadoff spot against right handers. What could possibly be wrong with a .385 on-base percentage? It’s certainly better than Dexter Fowler’s .336. (The Cardinals and Cubs really oughtta stop signing each other’s players because it never works out well for either team.)

Meanwhile, the trade for Jose Quintana was a great one. Now, all Theo has to do is follow the rest of my advice and I’ll be fidget free. Is that too much to ask?

 

Quick Hits – July 12, 2017

A vast immaturity

During a recent debate with a local Democratic elected official, my contention was, all insipid governors aside, most conservatives weren’t nearly as bad as he is, and some sort of compromise in the post-apocalyptic Illinois budget battle was inevitable.

Meanwhile, my friend was arguing that this started with the Koch brothers, it’s become a national ideological battleground with no logical underpinnings, and it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.

But sadly, as I’ve gauged the Illinois-finally-has-a-budget reactions of even my generally wise and intelligent conservative friends, I’m going to have to utter those rare words that always make my wife so happy – “I wuz wrong!”

Rauner Madigan

Don’t get me wrong! I understand the need to vent and I understand nobody’s happy about the long shadow Michael Madigan casts over the State. But I also understand that, much as the Governor just discovered, throwing a three-year temper tantrum while expecting the impossible generally doesn’t work out too well, either.

The singular statement that always seems to stop my office holding friends dead in their tracks is, “You don’t govern that way! You don’t govern by tantrum, pettiness and obstruction.”

So, since I still have faith in humanity – even in the political variety – I will, once again, repeat the political axioms that are blatantly true whether you believe them or not:

1. I’m not happy with the havoc the Speaker has wreaked upon Illinois, but conservative bitchin’ ain’t gonna change a goddam thing. If Republicans want to beat the man they have to develop the kind of ground game that’s proven so effective. The reason Mr. Madigan enjoys a supermajority is he gets people elected. Make no mistake, if the Speaker died tomorrow, another Democrat would keep the electoral ball rolling. The problem is, it’s a lot of hard work – something many conservatives seem to be allergic to.

2. Michael Madigan didn’t occur in a vacuum. It took him 30 years to get this far and it’s going to take a lot more than two to undo the damage.

3. Nobody gets 100 percent of any political deal. Nobody! Despite the baseless conservative bitching to the contrary, the Democrats put some real offers on the table this time. I could not believe the concessions Rauner wrung out of them! In his own words, the Governor said he got 90 percent of the education reform deal and he still wouldn’t budge. Boxing matches don’t have one round for a reason! When you make something an all or nothing proposition, you almost always end up with nothing.

4. What truly baffled me is the abject conservative willingness to destroy the state rather than compromise on anything. They’d rather deny the speaker his “prize,” than take the necessary small steps always required to affect political change.

So, the real traitors are the bible thumping conservative Republicans who would destroy the social service agencies that serve the least of our brothers and sisters, destroy the hopes and dreams of those attending our State universities, and destroy our bond rating so we could no longer effectively borrow money. The heroes are State Rep Steve Anderson and the Republicans who voted for a budget, because it was exactly the right thing to do. Aren’t they supposed to represent the majority of their constituents?

5. And trust me, those Springfield Republicans secretly LOVE the Speaker. They have absolutely no intention of mounting any real effort to defeat him, because he makes their lives so much easier. They don’t have to accomplish anything, they don’t really have to work and they know their constituents won’t hold them accountable for their failures. All they have to do is shriek “Madigan sucks” on a regular basis and they’ll get reelected. He’s the perfect pandering foil.

 

So now, in an effort to double down, Governor Rauner just hired Breitbart contributor and Illinois Policy Institute loon Kristina Rasmussen as his chief of staff, because that kind of pointless ideological divisiveness is exactly what we need right now.

Yes! Illinois desperately needs change and, for the last 11 years, I’ve been the first one to give the Democrats shit when they deserve it. But in order for that change to come, an awful lot of conservatives have to grow up first.

 

A few good (alder)men

In an effort to put my political money where my mouth is, I’m looking for five candidates to run for Geneva City Council in 2019 – one from each ward. You see, Geneva desperately needs change too! I’ve tried working within the system to affect that change, and I’ve had some success, but it’s not nearly enough, because Genevans are still facing down:

  • A city council that never met a fee, utility or tax increase they didn’t like
  • City administrators who dole out the kind of salary and benefit packages the rest of us would drool over
  • A mayor who’s been in office for too long and no longer has the interest of Genevans at heart
  • A police department that’s out of control internally and publicly (see Delnor)
  • An electric utility that can’t keep the power on for more than an hour at a time
  • Electric and water rates that border on the absurd
  • A city manager who firmly believes we’re there to serve her

So it’s simple! I’m looking for five candidates with the cohones to put on the fiscal brakes, and perhaps even reverse some spending, while they hold city staff accountable when it’s appropriate to do so.

But just like I don’t want to have to witness the State of Illinois’ demise, I’m not talking about “destroying” Geneva, either. All I’m talking about restoring balance to the city council force through a cooperative spirit and the kind of good government that always puts constituents first.

So here’s the deal! You come up with the money for mailers, door hangers and signs and I’ll do all the design work, get you the best prices and manage your campaign at no cost. Those interested in serving Geneva can email me at jeffnward@comcast.net. Let’s talk!