Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
Another rookie mistake by Mayor Johnson
But he still has more than three years to bring up his sagging poll numbers
11-16-2023 (issue No. 114)
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Squaring up the news — Where Charlie Meyerson tells readers where to go
The word of the day — “Deliquescent”
Re:Tweets — The winning visual tweet and this week’s contest finalists
Tune of the Week — Nominated by Tribune reporter Laura Rodríguez Presa
Mary Schmich’s postings will be back!
Last week’s winning tweet
I love when my husband says, “correct me if I’m wrong,” like I would pass up that opportunity. — @MumOfTw0
The Johnson administration says the quiet part out loud
Credit, I suppose, to Jason Lee, top adviser to Mayor Brandon Johnson, for candidly describing to the Tribune’s Gregory Royal Pratt the quid pro quo that he demanded of Ald. Bill Conway, 34th.
Conway asked the city to remove from the West Loop portion of his district tent encampments of those experiencing homelessness because, he said, they created trouble spots for illegal drugs and violent crime, including several shootings.
Lee pulled Conway into a copy room behind council chambers and offered to help remove the homeless camps, but, Conway said, he tied the action to the alderman supporting two Johnson initiatives: an increased real estate transfer tax on properties over $1 million to help fund citywide homeless services and an end to the tipped wage for restaurant workers.
First, aldermanic support for these initiatives was strong enough that Johnson didn’t need Conway’s votes. The transfer tax passed 32-17. The end of the tipped wage passed 36-10.
Second, the good government, smart politics move was to consider Conway’s request on its merits (and advocates for the homeless consider sweeping out encampments to be a bad idea), and to expect or at least hope for future cooperation on a close vote or two if they granted the request.
And the conventional move would have been to be much more oblique about suggesting the political horse trade — sending the message with winks, throat clearings, peculiar changes of subject and so on — and then to deny Conway’s interpretation of the conversations when confronted by Pratt over the city’s inaction on the tent encampments. But instead:
In an interview, Lee acknowledged linking the issue of the camps with support for the “Bring Chicago Home” tax increase on property sales over $1 million and the One Fair Wage ordinance to eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers. But he defended it as an appropriate deal.
“What I expressed to Ald. Conway is that … there’s a perception that doing something like removing encampments is not necessarily in line with progressive values and that it could be perceived as a callous act disconnected from the realities of what the unhoused and other vulnerable populations are going through,” Lee said.
“Ald. Conway demonstrating his commitment to progressive values, including eliminating the subminimum wage but most importantly Bring Chicago Home, is helpful to neutralize some of the criticism he might face in pursuing that.”
Of course, if it’s a bad idea to clear out tent encampments — inhumane, cruel, counterproductive — then it’s a bad idea no matter how Conway might vote on unrelated matters.
And if it’s a good idea — an enhancement for the safety of the public and for the unhoused — then it’s a good idea, again no matter how Conway might vote on unrelated matters
Perhaps naively, we city residents hope that any mayor — let alone one who styles himself as a progressive, collaborative standard-bearer for the “soul of Chicago” — decides such a question based on these serious considerations, not based on how the issue might be used to leverage a symbolic vote.
A Tribune editorial for today’s paper takes a righteous and well-deserved whack at Johnson:
Does the mayor really want to run our city this way, winning aldermanic support by making their constituents’ safety a bargaining chip? Would he not prefer a City Council in which members consider his legislative ideas on their own merits? …
The mayor should direct the staff in his office to end this practice of offering more police attention in exchange for legislative support, before it causes yet more chaos in a young administration desperate for firm and ethical direction from the boss.
But what did we get instead? This headline: “Mayor Brandon Johnson deflects questions over proposal tying homeless tent removal to City Council votes.”
The mayor Wednesday at first sidestepped a question about the exchange, telling reporters, “I am not necessarily privy to every single conversation that happens throughout the city of Chicago.” But pressed further on Conway’s allegations, Johnson said they were “a mischaracterization” and said “pushing for real support around the unhoused (is) what this has always been about.”
“I’m not going to apologize for doing right by the people of Chicago. I said I was going to bring Chicago home. I said I was going to invest in the unhoused,” Johnson said, referring to his push for a real estate transfer tax increase on property sales over $1 million to develop a stream for anti-homelessness services. “There is no secret to what I said I was going to do, and my administration carrying that out is exactly what the people of Chicago expect in their mayor.”
The mayor ended his response with a broadside against unnamed opponents of his agenda: “And if anyone wishes to stand in the way of the people of Chicago, well, they’re going to get rolled over by the people of Chicago.”
Yet right now, Johnson himself is getting rolled over, according to a new poll that shows him with dismal approval ratings.
Skeptics will point out that the poll was commissioned by the libertarian/conservative Illinois Policy Institute think tank, but I don’t doubt the gist of what its pollster found in a survey of 800 Chicago voters:
His 28% approval rating is just one point above former Mayor Rahm Emanuel following the Laquan McDonald scandal or former Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the same month she placed third in the mayoral election that Johnson eventually won. … Johnson’s approval ratings on the issues were lowest regarding crime and public safety, with two of every three voters polled disapproving. He also had majorities unhappy with his handling of housing and homelessness as well as his management of the migrant issue, with thousands facing a Chicago winter in heated tents.
The crime problem has proven stubborn, and the challenge of absorbing some 20,000 South American asylum-seekers into the already large homeless population has been daunting. Johnson has not taken advantage of his considerable charisma to show leadership on these issues and too often serves up word salad when responding to difficult issues.
A few more results from the cross-tabs:
73% of respondents said they’d like to see a greater police presence in the city.
63% oppose Mayor Johnson’s plan to house migrants in “base camps.”
52% oppose the idea of Chicago as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants.
65% support the Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program.
55% want the city to get rid of the speed-camera ticketing program.
Footnote: Reporter Gregory Royal Pratt’s book “The City Is Up for Grabs: How Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Led and Lost a City in Crisis” is on presale at Amazon. Publication date is next April.
News & Views
News: Mayor Brandon Johnson’s budget includes half a million dollars to fund a commission to study potential restoration and reparations to descendants of enslaved people.
View: No matter how you feel about the various ideas put forth to try to repair some of the lingering damage done to African Americans for some 250 years of chattel slavery on our shores, you have to agree that the ideas have already been comprehensively studied and debated, and $500,000 is a lot of money to spend for a commission to study and debate them again. Let’s go straight to hearings and put that money toward something tangible.
News: The Invest in Kids program that directed state income tax dollars directly to private and parochial schools, was not renewed by the Illinois General Assembly.
View: Those wringing their hands about the fate of lower-income children who now attend private schools on Invest in Kids scholarships should use those hands to open their wallets and donate directly to scholarship funds. Sure, it was nice for the donors when they could direct our money to the cause, but nothing stands in the way of them using their own money to fund private and parochial schools.
News: A survey showed that it costs employees working at an office $51 a day, $31 more than what it costs working from home.
View: Oh please. This figure was widely reported and based on research by a teleconferencing company. The $51 is the sum of an average of $14 for the commute itself — gas or transit fares — $8 for parking, $13 for breakfast and coffee and $16 for lunch.
I always loved working from home, but shelling out nearly $30 for breakfast, coffee and lunch is excessive and optional. Have a bowl of cereal at home, pack a lunch and thermos of coffee, and the price of going to the office starts to look more reasonable. Gotta say, though, that $8 for parking is quite optimistic for downtown Chicago workers.
The main cost, to my mind, is time. I live in the city, and my commute was always roughly an hour each way whether I drove or took the train.
News: “David Braun named Northwestern’s permanent head football coach midway through interim season.”
View: Well deserved. After then-head head coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired just before the season began over allegations that players had engaged in nasty hazing rituals on his watch, most observers doubted that Northwestern would improve on its 1-11 record in 2022 under an interim with no head coaching experience.
But the Wildcats are now 5-5 (with more wins than in the previous two seasons combined) and a decent bet to get to a postseason bowl game.
Speaking of Big 10 head coaches, yes, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh still looks to be in a load of trouble over the sign-stealing scandal, but here’s a story posted to Facebook by my former Tribune colleague Mike Conklin:
Everyone in the sports world seems to be piling on Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh these days. Not me. Never. Here’s why.
Years ago, when I authored the Chicago Tribune’s Odds & Ins sports column, I got a memorable call regarding the then-Bears quarterback. The caller, a very reliable source, was the owner of Reilly’s Daughter, a popular south side sports bar.
Jim had been the guest at the pub’s weekly Monday night program during football season: If Chicago wasn’t playing, one of the Bears would be paid to make an appearance during the telecast. Typically, this amounted to a few words from the guest at the start, signing some autographs, engaging in some Q&A during the first half, then out the door at intermission.
Not Jim. As the clock neared midnight, the quarterback finally reached the last person in line---an older fan who, apologetically, asked Harbaugh to personalize a greeting to his son with his autograph on a football he’d brought to the event.
Too late for him on a school night? queried Jim. Well, no, said the father. His son had cancer and he was hospitalized.
Harbaugh’s response? He wanted to know the hospital. When told it was not that far away, he asked the father to drive there, he’d follow in his own car, and give him the signed football in person. Which he did.
News: In a campaign speech and social media post, presidential hopeful Donald Trump echoed Adolph Hitler in referring to his foes as “vermin.”
View: I know, I know. Godwin’s Law says that the first side to invoke Hitler or the Nazis in a political argument automatically loses, and anyone who is alarmed by Trump’s increasingly unhinged, fascistic rhetoric suffers from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
But, folks, really, who is deranged? Those who are frightened by Trump’s furious, authoritarian rantings to tens of millions of ovine followers? Or those who think, aw, he doesn’t mean it and poses no threat whatsoever to democracy and the rule of law?
Mark Jacob has a powerful Twitter thread based on his rereading of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and The Lincoln Project has assessed the grave situation aptly:
Land of Linkin’
“Losing at the ballot box, abortion foes have been turning up the volume.” A look at an anti-noise proposal aimed at abortion protesters. From Tuesday’s Picayune Plus.
“Ted Lasso” reunion, of sorts: Co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham show off their impressive pipes in this cover of “Shallow” at a recent benefit concert in Kansas City:
“Washington’s Dream” was one of the funniest “Saturday Night Live” sketches of the year:
Former Tribune environmental writer Casey Bukro’s recent book “Higher Power: An American Town's Story of Faith, Hope, and Nuclear Energy” is a deep dive into the workings of a facility 40 miles north of Chicago. “Bukro spent two years inside the Zion nuclear plant, interviewing employees, witnessing high-risk maintenance procedures, and watching the radiation exposure counter on his own dosimeter tick up and up.”
Margaret Sullivan in The Guardian: “The public doesn’t understand the risks of a Trump victory. That’s the media’s fault.” She writes, “It’s now clearer than ever that Trump, if elected, will use the federal government to go after his political rivals and critics, even deploying the military toward that end.”
Squaring up the news
This is a bonus supplement to the Land of Linkin’ from veteran radio, internet and newspaper journalist Charlie Meyerson. Each week, he offers a selection of intriguing links from his daily email news briefing Chicago Public Square:
■ Press Watch columnist Dan Froomkin grudgingly credits mainstream news organizations—notably The Washington Post—for a “tonal shift” in coverage of Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric.
■ Media critic — and ex-Tribune and Sun-Times editor Mark Jacob — mocks The New York Times’ first take on Trump’s “vermin” speech with several satiric headlines, including “Captain of the Titanic Takes Luxury Liner in a Very Different Direction.”
■ Editor & Publisher: A 16-year-old’s launched a Kansas news site that’s out-reporting the local Gannett “ghost paper.”
■ What killed Jezebel? Columnist and author Cory Doctorow blames advertisers’ quest for “brand safety.”
■ A former Jezebel editor: “The world … would have been drastically different without it.”
■ From 40 years ago, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the WXRT-FM news drill for Terri Hemmert’s morning show.
You can (and should) subscribe to Chicago Public Square free here.
We ran through the whole “Songs of Good Cheer” program during Sunday’s marathon rehearsal, starting with the work shown in the above video on the show’s opening.
SOGC is a series of massive caroling parties at the Old Town School of Folk Music hosted by me and my former Tribune colleague Mary Schmich. We are accompanied — led, in fact — by a very experienced band.
Why come sing with us? Here’s Old Town School Executive Director and CEO Jim Newcomb in the preface to this year’s songbook:
There are so many things that make singing holiday songs together special — the memories the songs stir, the beauty of the songs themselves and magical self-correcting quality of singing with others where we are a little less pitchy and more willing to sing out as a group than we might be singing on our own.
The thing I love most, however, is the feeling that comes from just singing with others — the transcendent, sublime community of feeling that connects us while we belt out songs we have known for decades or are just learning during the show.
“Pitchy.” That would be me.
The programs are Dec. 7-10 this year, and here is the link for more information and tickets.
Want to try to win tickets? This year, Mary and I are reviving one of the most successful reader contests we’ve had: Tell us the story of your most memorable holiday gift.
A memorable gift can be a great gift. Or an awful one. Your story can be funny. Or moving. Things you might want to include in your story: What did the gift look like? What do you remember about the moment you received it? Where is it now? How do you feel now when you summon the memory?
We ask that you keep your entry to 200 words or fewer. The deadline is the Monday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, which is 11 days from now. No pressure. Email submissions only — use this link or write to firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject heading “Memorable Gift Essay.”
Winners will get two free tickets and the chance to join us on the stage to read their essays.
This week’s panel on “The Mincing Rascals” podcast consisted of host John Williams, Cate Plys, Marj Halperin, Austin Berg and me. We discussed the meaning of “hate groups” regarding new Chicago police regulations, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s low poll numbers, the proposed real-estate transfer tax and Halperin’s Sun-Times op-ed, “As a Jew, I want to defend Israel. But I can’t justify the destruction in Gaza.”
Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page. If you’re not a podcast listener, you can hear an edited version of the show at 8 p.m. most Saturday evenings on WGN-AM 720.
Word of the day
“Deliquescent” — Having a tendency to melt or dissolve.
It’s generally a scientific term, but it’s also an exquisite adjective for those who turn into a puddle when confronted with an idea or argument that challenges them. Picayune Sentinel subscriber Steven K. introduced me to the word in this comment:
To the list of things that demonstrate the deliquescence of the conservative snowflake, let us not forget the tendency to experience fits and seizures because a sales clerk at a department store bids you adieu with “Happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” (even though December 25th might be weeks away). This pathetic trait is doubly lame, as it indicates a) a paranoid belief that Christianity is under attack by way of an imagined “War on Christmas”, and b) a whiny ingratitude and hostility at a simple gesture of good will.
Here’s another example from the other side of the political spectrum — this tweet from Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates. She was reacting to Austin Berg (of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast, the “America’s Talking” podcast and the Illinois Policy Institute) simply quoting on social media what she said on a recent podcast:
I, too, “stalked” Davis Gates by transcribing in more detail her public remarks. Pretty creepy, I know.
Speaking of the “Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays” controversy, my former colleague Phil Vettel offered this pointed reminder on Facebook:
It’s improper to say "Merry Christmas" before Christmas Day. The time before Christmas on the Christian calendar is Advent, a time of reflection and preparation. So "Happy Holidays" is not only the more inclusive greeting, it is also the more correct one.
Here’s a post from Twitter celebrity @OhNoSheTwitn’t
I don’t have student debt but I believe in student debt forgiveness. I can’t get pregnant but I believe abortion should be legal. I’m straight and cis but I am pro same-sex marriage and trans rights. Welcome to It’s Not Always About You 101.
Here’s one from @71Elvis77:
Stop telling me Biden has dementia. I spent four days watching an entire family between the ages of 40-77 not be able to remember a damn thing about a business THEY OWNED.
Savor these excerpts from the words of Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s older sister, who died Monday. They are from recordings made by her niece and first released to The Washington Post in 2020:
His goddamn tweeting and lying, oh, my God. … The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit. … It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel. … Donald is out for Donald, period. … He has five bankruptcies. You can’t trust him. … He has no principles. None. None.
And this is a quote about Donald Trump from an unnamed former administration official in Jonathan Karl’s new book, “Tired of Winning.”
He lacks any shred of human decency, humility or caring. He is morally bankrupt, breathtakingly dishonest, lethally incompetent, and stunningly ignorant of virtually anything related to governing, history, geography, human events or world affairs. He is a traitor and a malignancy in our nation and represents a clear and present danger to our democracy and the rule of law.
As my friend Chad Leverenz noted on Facebook about Karl’s report, “The fact that the person who told him this insists on remaining anonymous is the reason our democracy is on life support.”
In Tuesday’s paid-subscriber editions, I present my favorite tweets that rely on visual humor. Subscribers vote for their favorite, and I post the winner here every Thursday:
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
I’m at the age where I see a huge, beautiful mansion in a movie and think, “How much does it cost to heat that house in the winter?” — @RodLacroix
"Look, we're all in this together," I said, thus dragging innocent people into a situation I created. — @MelvinofYork
On a scale of quack to quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack, what do you think of my duck-based numbering system? — @GlennyRodge
“See you later,” I say to the carrots I just packed in my kid’s lunch. — @Spell_boundd
Having now listened to the entire song, I have to say there's some obvious internal disagreement as to what the Hokey Pokey is all about. — @blahdevivre
Wife: How was the rap battle? Me: [removing hand puppet] I lost. — @Cpin42
I see your baker’s dozen and raise you a mom’s dozen (11, because you ate one when the kids weren’t looking). — @KatieDeal99
Your 20s are for figuring out who you are. Your 30s are for figuring out where you want to be. Your 40s are for figuring out what the attachments to your vacuum do. — @mommajessiec
Why is judge the only job where you can bang a little hammer to make people shut up ? I’ve needed that in literally every job I’ve had. — @TheAndrewNadeau
As a parent you get to see just how much a baby accomplishes in its first year of life. Because you’re awake for all of it. — @terrip38
Vote here and check the current results in the poll.
Usage note: To me, “tweet” has become a generic term for a short post on social media.
For instructions and guidelines regarding the poll, click here.
Tune of the Week
This week’s guest nominator is Tribune reporter Laura Rodríguez Presa, a key part of the team that’s been offering powerful coverage of the migrant challenge in Chicago.
This whole thing has really made me think a lot about the millions of people who have lived here under the shadows for decades and how they were and still remain invisible. My family was a part of that group for nearly a decade. Thankfully, my grandfather, who became a US citizen after the Reagan amnesty, was able to put all of us on a path to citizenship.
I think a lot about those who will continue to live here invisible to others. Especially now that some of the migrants will get a work permit. Not all will, so the tale of the undocumented community will continue in this country.
“Mojado,” a song by Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona, speaks to the experience of the undocumented people:
From an English translation: Said goodbye with a grimace disguised as a smile And he pleaded with his God crucified on the shelf The preservation of what is his And he penetrated the border However he could. … Your truth tastes like a lie Your anxiety tastes like sadness To see a freeway and dream with a road That leads you to your home
When I become aware of errors in the Picayune Sentinel, I quickly correct them in the online version, but since many of you read just the email version, which I can’t correct after the fact, I will use this space periodically to alert you to meaningful mistakes I’ve made.
Last Thursday, I gave the wrong first name for new Cubs manager Craig Counsell, and I mistakenly credited the Arizona Diamondbacks with winning the World Series when in fact they lost to the Texas Rangers. I regret the errors, which revealed how inattentive I was to the baseball season this year.
The Picayune Sentinel is a reader-supported publication. Browse and search back issues here. Simply subscribe to receive new posts each Thursday. To support my work, receive bonus issues on Tuesdays and join the zesty commenting community, become a paid subscriber. Thanks for reading!