Looking back at 2012 through my New Year’s champagne-induced fuzz, I see another memorable year for the state and county.
As Illinoisans we again made history, this time for electing a former lawmaker who was removed from the Illinois House after being indicting by the Feds for allegedly taking cash bribes. Perhaps the Federal charges aren’t the shocking point. Perhaps the shocking point is that Derrick Smith was in office for less than a year (yes, less than a year) before being brought up on charges by the Feds for offenses that happened while serving as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives (for less than a year). Do note that Smith is innocent until proven guilty and is more than happy to proclaim is his innocence, how the government is persecuting him, and to compare himself to some mighty fine historical and biblical figures.
Speaking of the 2012 election, voters in the second Congressional District elected absentee incumbent lawmaker Jesse Jackson, Jr. While it was initially reported that Congressman Jackson was seeking treatment for biopolar depression, reports have since surfaced that his attorneys are also in the process of negotiating a plea deal with Federal prosecutors. In November, Jackson announced that he would not be continuing in the House due to his medical condition. Via letter to House Speaker Boehner, Jackson acknowledged past mistakes.
Speaking of past mistakes, former Congressman and convicted felon Mel Reynolds has indicated that he’s running for the second Congressional seat, a seat he once held before being forced to step down.
On another history making note, State Representative LaShawn Ford was the second sitting State Representative after Derrick Smith to be indicted this year. The west side lawmaker is accused of 17 counts of bank fraud and lying to the now-failed ShoreBank. Unlike Smith, Ford’s indictment is unrelated to his activities as a State lawmaker. He’s formally requested that the Illinois House of Representatives not remove him.
Also under the capitol dome, State Senator Donne Trotter was arrested in December for attempting to board a plane with a handgun and full clip in his carry-on luggage. When questioned he stated that the handgun was for his job at All Points Security, a company that later stated that Trotter doesn’t really work for them.
Wrapping up Illinois’ history-making 2012, the state entered the new year with eight billion in unpaid bills and exited 2012 with eight billion in unpaid bills. The Governor’s solution? Borrow more billions. As a brief reminder, on January 11, 2011 members of the Illinois General Assembly approved a “temporary” two-percentage point income tax increase to pay for pensions without borrowing, to pay down debt, and to pay old bills.
Speaking of pension debt, Illinois pension costs eat up six and quarter billion dollars per year and that amount is expected to increase by another one billion next year. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago argues that four steps are absolutely necessary to reduce Illinois’ pension debt: elimination of all cost of living increases, establishment of a salary cap above which pensions can’t grow, increase the retirement age to 67, and shifting the annual pension costs for local government workers to those governments.
On the local side, former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno was indicated for allegedly taking bribes to steer a hospital contact for supplies. In November, it was reported that Moreno is in the process of negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.
Speaking of elected officials, incumbent (and indicted) Commissioner William Beavers and his trademark bravado claims that he didn’t take more than $225,000 from campaign funds under his control. And that he didn’t fail to pay income taxes on the portions of those funds converted to personal use.
Speaking of campaign funds, the Illinois State Board of Elections is investigating the disappearance of a $500,000 “investment” from the Todd H. Stroger campaign fund earlier this year. According to reports there are no accounting records for the funds. The money was left unspent during Stroger’s 2010 four-way primary race that Toni Preckwinkle ultimately won.
As 2012 draws to a close and my champagne-induced fuzz continues to clear, one can only hope that 2013 will be less eventful for the people of Illinois and Cook County.
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