Illinois Week in Review – Quinn aide appointed to lead public agency, Tyson tries to win over Democratic voters
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn engaged in some last-minute political maneuvering to help his communications director get appointed to lead a public agency. Meanwhile, a candidate running for state representative against an indicted and expelled ex-member of the Illinois House heads into the Nov. 6 election trying to convince Chicago voters he’s the Democrat for the job.
Political maneuvering ends with Quinn’s spokeswoman appointed to state board
Kraft’s appointment was the subject of public disagreement between Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had differing opinions about who deserved the appointment.
Kraft is a former television reporter and deputy budget director for Quinn. Emanuel opposed her appointment, saying she was not as qualified as his preferred candidate, former Sara Lee Corp. and Chicago Public Schools chief financial officer Diana Ferguson. Emanuel said Ferguson had more financial experience.
Media reports also surfaced that Kraft filed personal bankruptcy in 2009 because of $100,000 in debt, mostly from credit cards. Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson on Friday noted that the bankruptcy was “due to a personal situation and has since been completely resolved.”
Wednesday evening, hours before Thursday’s vote on naming an executive director, Quinn quietly replaced board member Manny Sanchez, who appeared to be poised to vote against Kraft’s appointment, with a new board member, Dr. Quentin Young, who cast the deciding vote in favor of Kraft’s appointment.
Sanchez’s appointment was up in June, but Emanuel and others questioned Quinn’s timing for replacing him.
The ISFA is a public agency that operates U.S. Cellular Field, where the Chicago White Sox play. The executive director oversees the ISFA’s $40 million budget, as well as operation of the stadium and more.
The vote was 4-3 in favor of Kraft, who will be paid $175,900 a year. She begins the job Nov. 8.
In response to the controversy, Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, on Friday called for the sports authority to be eliminated.
“This agency has become an embarrassment and nothing more than a patronage plum,” Murphy said. “…It has no responsibilities for the day-to-day operation of either Cellular Field or Soldier Field. It’s just a conduit for the public financing of the facilities. There are any number of existing entities that could do this without requiring a $176,000 director to oversee five employees.”
Smith challenger Tyson trying to reach Democrat Party loyalists
But Tyson’s success depends on convincing voters he’s a Democrat, even though he’s running as a “Unity Party” candidate — a party mostly unknown to most west-side Chicago voters who are accustomed to voting only for Democrats. And on Tuesday’s ballot, Smith will be the only Democrat listed.
“We’re right where we need to be to close this puppy out. I know we can do it,” Tyson said after rallying with as many as 100 supporters Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters in Chicago to help spread the word about his candidacy.
“The biggest challenge — and it’s not with this district, it’s generally — is people don’t know what a state representative is, let alone who it is,” he said. “So this process has been a major education process, which required a lot of resources. I pumped in a lot from myself, and the secretary of state pumped in a lot of resources.”
Tyson is a well-connected Chicago lawyer with ties to both former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. He has backing from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Gov. Pat Quinn and several Chicago aldermen — all Democrats. His campaign manager is Maze Jackson, a political insider who has done media relations work for White and Chicago politicians and was heavily involved in Quinn’s campaign for governor.
Smith was indicted on a federal bribery charge just days before for the March primary. He is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe related to his work as a state representative. Then, in August, his colleagues in the House kicked him out, giving him the dubious distinction of being the first representative expelled in more than a century.
The election complications began in March when Smith won the party primary shortly after he was arrested on the bribery charge. That secured his spot him on the ballot as the candidate for the Democrat Party.
The Democrats, in response, set up the Unity Party and chose Tyson to run against Smith in an effort to retain control of the seat.
Larry Thomas, a 60-year-old minister and brother of NBA legend Isiah Thomas, supports Tyson but admitted it’s been an uphill battle getting the word out about the difference between Tyson and Smith.
“I voted straight Democrat, which is going to make this race here kind of hard because the majority of black people vote straight Democrat. They don’t even look at it or think about it. They just vote straight Democrat,” he said. “So that’s the message that we really need to get out more. (Tyson’s) not running under the Democratic ticket, even though he is (a Democrat).”
TRS bleeding out, experts say
Illinois’ teacher pension system could go broke if the state does not figure out a way to fully fund the system soon, the leader of the retirement system and others have warned again.
Illinois’ Teachers’ Retirement System is seeking $3.4 billion from the state for its portion of the pension costs for fiscal year 2014. That’s about $500 million more than the system sought from the state for the previous fiscal year.
“TRS faces the real risk of future insolvency because of insufficient state funding over the last 30 years,” said Dick Ingram, executive director of the Teachers’ Retirement System, who previously has made the same dire prediction.
“TRS absolutely will be able to meet its obligations to retired teachers in the near future, but we cannot guarantee retirement security for future generations of teachers unless the state meets its total obligations.”
TRS calculates the state’s annual funding contribution based on a formula designed by the state in 1995, and the system reports the required funding amount to the state every year in October.
The latest funding increase comes on the heels of dismal investment returns during the last fiscal year. TRS announced last week that it earned a mere .76-percent return on its investments, primarily because of a negative 11.71-percent rate of return on international stocks. Other investments, including real estate, bonds, private equity and hedge funds, had positive investment returns.
A year ago TRS reported a 23.6 percent return on its investments. TRS officials say long-term returns are what matters most, not year-to-year returns. They noted that TRS’ 20-year return on investment is 7.73 percent — a figure that is not nearly sufficient to make a dent in the debt, critics say.
During the summer, TRS revised downward its expected rate of return from 8.5 percent to 8 percent, under pressure from government accountability groups that say anticipated rates of return were unrealistic and too exaggerated. Other pension systems also revised their rates.
“There’s nothing to do about rates of return, but what we have to do is find a system that is fair for everybody — one in which teacher retirements are funded, but also one in which the taxpayers aren’t always called upon to make up the differences,” said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, a Chicago-based think tank that studies the state’s pension crisis.
Also factoring into the increased contribution amount is the state’s “ramp”-style funding system that predicts Illinois can fund 90 percent of its pension system by 2045. However, underfunding of the system and payment holidays have muddied the water.
Contact Jayette Bolinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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