Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sheila Simon Campaigns for Mayor

Sheila Simon, a member of the city council in Carbondale, is running for mayor against the incumbent Brad Cole. Sheila is the daughter of former U. S. Senator Paul Simon and former State Representative Jeanne Hurley Simon.

Sheila’s biography is one of public service – from volunteerism in childhood to professionalism in adulthood. As a teenager, she even ran errands at the Democratic Convention. She has a record of prosecutions when she was an assistant in the state’s attorney office and provided legal services to low income clients as a staff attorney at Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance. She also developed and supervised a domestic violence clinic.

In one of her legal cases, she prosecuted a man charged with driving under the influence. He was a hard-working farmer that just drank too much at a local bar in Murphysboro. This was his second strike so the sentence had to be community service or jail time. He could afford neither so Sheila gave him a third option with a little more common sense: donate two butchered hogs to the women’s center. He benefits. A non-profit for women benefits. Taxpayers obviously benefit when they do not pay for someone’s room and board. Her solution worked for everyone.

Her experience as a prosecutor also provided her with some insights on the Three Strikes Law. She feels hesitant to support such legislation because the requirements it places on judges sometimes
do not fit the crime. The intent for mandatory minimums is a good one. The actual language has cruel and unusual punishment issues under the Eighth Amendment.

Now she is passing her knowledge and experience on to law students as an associate professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law. Her passion for domestic abuse issues is obvious. She was the first person to develop and supervise a domestic violence clinic.

Fans of Sheila’s opponent continue to question her accomplishments. They fail to look beyond her three years on the city council. To some, her opponent appears decisive. To others, he micromanages while trying to circumvent the city’s
council-manager form of government (i.e., an elected city council is responsible for making policy, passing ordinances, voting appropriations, and having overall supervisory authority in the city government). No one on the city council decides anything individually. It is a democratic group effort providing an opportunity for everyone to weigh in on the issues.

In that respect, Sheila’s more highly qualified than anyone – especially her incumbent opponent. She has the types of accomplishment that provide direct benefits to the quality of life, and no one talks about them in cordial afternoons in a town square gathering: consumer and housing problems for low-income families, restraining orders for domestic abuse victims, protection in child advocacy, economic independency and other women’s issues, and inadequate housing. The laws of the state always attract attention in a place like Chicago, Sheila said. Rural communities like Carbondale make them work.

In contrast, her opponent, a protégé of former Governor George Ryan, has provided four years of housekeeping – citywide janitorial services on his mayor’s salary (which is a job almost all women know only too well gratis and pays significantly less than most janitors ever see). City aesthetics are good for long-term benefits to quality of life. They offer nothing for the immediate needs of the citizens.

There are numerous state and federal programs and tax benefits available for the economic development of rural communities. The trick is to find them. Individual business owners usually have themselves and no one else to travel to informational seminars. They cannot arbitrarily close shop for the day. They need someone like Sheila. She seeks out the information and brings it back to Carbondale. She is familiar with the many Rural Economic Development
programs available to the Carbondale community. Many of them would benefit the area’s urban and greenspace development while sustaining the area’s renewable natural resources. The Healthy Communities Water Supply Act is an example. Among other advantages, it will help fund the cost of treating wastewater for industrial and agricultural use. Another program is the Rural Empowerment Zone (EZ). Sheila voted against a one-time expansion because she felt that the council needed to know more about who benefited, the land in question, etc.

Local businesses have a long-term, personal investment in their communities. Yes, there has been a failure or two. There are no quick or easy solutions for the American Tap property and the Varsity Theater. A local community theater group looked at the old theater so there is local interest. Restoration costs were too high for them. The problem is typically outside owners worrying more about their bottom line than their community impact. Shiela suggests making them pay a maintenance fee of sorts. Those funds would offset the vacant building’s maintenance cost to the community and future restoration efforts. Combined with the
Vacant Commercial Building Rehabilitation Credit For Enterprise Zones and other sources, the total restoration costs of vacant buildings would be nominal.

Her other ideas for single-proprietor businesses include a proposal for energy programs that save the owners money. Hometown awards and heritage
preservation recognition are wonderful options for greater economic growth. The Hotel Occupancy Tax already provides funding for tourism promotions and information on the local vineyards and favored scenic drives. She would like to expand on that. Finally, college towns like Carbondale are the 21st Century destinations for retirement living. It is something of a no-brainer for educated professional baby boomers and a welcome idea.

A common economic answer is
Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Used properly, Sheila feels it is an effective development tool. Her opponent, while against property tax, fully supports TIF districts. Yet, proponents have become too loose with the definition of blighted and the rules governing TIF. Instead of preserving local Main Street businesses, communities use it to underwrite sprawling development for big-box stores and shopping malls. In addition to favoring greenspace development of the state’s rich fertile soil over infill in low-income neighborhoods, these subsidies disadvantage independent businesses. Not only do local retailers rarely benefit from TIF, but they must shoulder a higher tax burden in areas where part of the city's property tax revenue is being diverted from city services and used instead to pay off bonds that financed competing shopping centers. Obviously, they are not the panacea to any community’s economic health. On the contrary, many are more destructive to the uniqueness and quality of life of rural America.

Many proponents of insourcing feel it is an excellent answer to lower the unemployment numbers in Southern Illinois (numbers that are the highest in the state). The practice gave the state Cavel, the Belgian horse slaughtering operation in De Kalb. Also, there are no guarantees how long an insourced company will remain in the state. They have no inherent commitment to a community. The bottom line always rules: Another state makes them a better offer. Their contract is up. They are gone. For Sheila, insourcing is an option to consider under the right conditions. The long-term result cannot be another
superfund site. A free market economy (i.e., individuals, rather than government, make the majority of decisions regarding economic activities and transactions) ultimately comes due and payable with a heavy price tag for someone.

Critics of campaign finance reform emphasize collecting as much money as possible since it has become necessary to getting the candidate’s messages out to a lot of voters fast. In some of the more recent Illinois elections, it appears to govern the outcome. Sheila has chosen to limit the contributions to $50. In a city of 24,000 people and an estimated 4,000 voters that will cast ballots on April 17, Sheila is not worried. She grew up in Makanda and has been active in the Carbondale community for so long that everyone feels they know her. She is their neighbor no matter where they live. Limiting campaign contributions is a natural choice for Sheila. Large contributions provide greater, faster access. For example: One constituent gives $1,000. Another gives $10. Both need a response from their elected official. The person providing the larger contribution gets the quickest return call. It is only human nature, she said. Limiting contributions limits influence.

In contrast, her opponent learned his fundraising technique well from his
mentor. He welcomes business and individual contributions up to $2,000. He has even received $1,000 from U. S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville). He and his staff are well-trained fundraising professionals of the same mold.

In true Democratic fashion, Sheila encourages participation from all age groups in her campaign. College students walk door to door. Middle school children paint signs. All the volunteers are enthusiastic and active. She knows how important it is for the younger generations to become part of the political activities. The simple act of voting is an excellent way for young adults to become involved. Yes, every vote counts. Local elections like the Carbondale mayoral race emphasizes how important every vote becomes. Last time, 21 votes decided the winner.

Voting and volunteering are just small parts of it. She suggests that they campaign for an elected position on boards, commissions, etc. Joe Moore, a member of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale College Democrats, is on the ballot for city council. According to Sheila, he has a good chance of being elected. City government is always better when more people become involved in creating and changing policy. A small zoning change affects people’s lives. She feels that they should have a voice in those effects.

Like every other traveler along the cyber highway, Sheila understands the importance of the availability of internet services in 21st Century daily life. In 2006, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn provided Carbondale with a $17,875 state grant to help establish a downtown wireless Internet network. The city was one of
12 that applied for the funding in 2006. City Hall, Carbondale Public Library, the town square, Friendship Plaza, Veterans Plaza, and Memorial Hospital now have access. It is good for the future of the community. Sheila agrees with her opponent on in this one area. Net Neutrality is not a concern or her at this time. She is aware of the issue and keeps informed of the facts.

Many local candidates would take advantage of every imaginable resource such as the online blog. It is one alternative for a finite campaign treasury. Blogging works well for national and state political campaigns covering a large area, said Sheila. I decided that human contact is more important in a city of 24,000. Only a percentage is active online, and a small percentage of that number actually read blogs. In addition, the first rule for a good public speaker is know the audience, and she has known hers for years. Therefore, talking to people with personal touch is worth a lot more than daily blog posts and a month of television ad buys.

The progressive politics of her father gave Sheila a better understanding of the patience required in a democracy. Elected officials need persistence. They always have to be conscience of those less fortunate. She has both of those qualities. She recalled her father commenting on his friend, former
U. S. Senator Paul Douglas. According to her father, Douglas entered politics to save the world. In the end, he was happy that he saved a small corner of it: the Indiana Dunes. I learned that we have a responsibility to others, said Sheila.

The Simon name certainly places Sheila under a very unenviablely large microscope. Yet, she is a woman who understands the nuances of real leadership skills that are inclusive by involving delegation of authority. With a city council and a weak mayor government, this is exactly what the people want – a government in which the mayor performs ceremonial duties or acts as a member and presiding officer of the council.

Few people are aware of the history and how the change was made to move to a more professional, less corrupt system. Even fewer people realize that the system of governance can only be changed by referendum. Our system fits our community so well, allowing to tap into the expertise and enthusiasm of so many, without making those folks give up jobs to be able to take part.
Sheila believes in this democracy and preserving the integrity of a representative government. Her decisions on the city council are a testament to those values of government integrity, fiscal responsibility, and economic opportunity for Carbondale. This is completely opposite of those micromanaging characteristics that her incumbent opponent displays. For the voters, their choice in the Consolidated Election is clear.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ziri-ously Fundraising

Michael Patrick Ziri is on the April 17, 2007, Consolidated Election ballot for the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority’s (SMEAA) District 1. He held a fundraiser this afternoon at Andiamo's on Sixth and Adams.

Almost all of his support and campaign contributions come from activists. Here is a partial list:

  • Scott Saunders, Democratic Precinct Committman running for SMEAA District 5
  • Julie Kluge, Democratic candidate for SMEAA District 1
  • Steve Waterworth, former congressional candidate for IL-18
  • Pam Gronemeyer, President, Downstate Democrats For Change (the same group organizing a Democrats for America training event in Springfield in September)
  • Virginia Bayless, a member of Operation Home Now
  • William Houlihan, Senator Richard Durbin's director in the Springfield office.

Mr. Ziri is one of two Democrats for three seats. There are no Republicans on the ballot due to errors that Mr. Ziri noticed two months ago. The Sangamon County Democratic Party has tried to correct the practice of Republican candidates submitting petitions that are not within the law. Where they failed, Michael Ziri succeeded.

SMEAA is the 11-member (allegedly) non-partisan board established in 1973. It includes all of Capital, Springfield and Woodside townships, and oversees the operation of the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. It is the same SMEAA that wants to get into the hotel business.

[. . .] the head of the taxing authority that operates the Prairie Capital Convention Center sent a letter (January 11, 2007,) to state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias saying SMEAA would be willing to purchase the mortgage of the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center (formerly known as the Renaissance Hotel).

It is in default on its state-backed loans to the tune of $28 million, and the trustee for the Illinois Insured Mortgage Pilot Program, which is run by Giannoulias' office, wants the 316-room hotel at Seventh and Adams streets operated by someone else until a new owner is found.

[. . .] selling the mortgage to SMEAA would remove it (the hotel) from being a state issue and allow our local entities to work with all involved to keep Springfield's hugely important convention and tourism business viable.

The hotel and convention center are side-by-side, and SMEAA owns the land.
Yet, no one has any idea where they will get any part of the $28.4 million loan balance:
[. . .] Ernie Slottag, said no money to buy the hotel would come from city coffers. SMEAA and the city might try to assemble a team of investors to buy the note on the hotel on behalf of the auditorium authority, Slottag said. (State Journal-Register, January 11, 2007)
Back in January 2007, Mr. Ziri felt that upholding the integrity of the law was more important than retaining the Republican status quo in Sangamon County. He subsequently filed his objections to the Republican petitions. On February 21, 2007, the Sangamon County Electoral Board removed three candidates for SMEAA from the April 17, 2007, Consolidated Election ballot.
District 1: incumbent Don Casper, retiring Springfield Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager and former Sangamon County Board chairman Dick Austin.

Bruce Stratton, lawyer for all four SMEAA candidates who faced objections, said he had not seen the electoral board's written opinions, but he might go to circuit court to fight the decision in the cases of Austin and Yeager.

Casper failed to indicate what office he was seeking on his petitions, while Austin and Yeager didn't have the required 50 signatures from people who live within their district, the electoral board ruled.

[. . .] The electoral board, comprised of Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello, State's Attorney John Schmidt and Treasurer Tom Cavanagh, on Monday had removed Sandra K. Douglas from the ballot. She had turned in fewer than 385 signatures.

Stratton argued . . . that the signatures could come from anyone within all of SMEAA's taxing district, which includes Capital, Springfield and Woodside townships. But Michael Ziri, a candidate in SMEAA District 1 who objected to petitions of Casper, Yeager and Austin, argued that the signatures must come from voters in District 1. The electoral board sided with Ziri.

Yeager and Austin had both turned in more than 50 signatures, but Ziri contended and the board agreed that when removing voters from outside District 1, their totals fell below 50.

In its written findings, the board noted that the SMEAA taxing district in 1988 was split into five districts by a consent decree arising from a federal voting-rights case. The electoral board wrote that the decree along with the state law setting up SMEAA requires that, in the board's words, the nomination petition for board members for the various sub-districts must be signed by voters registered to vote in the same sub-district as the office sought.

Stratton, who has a contract as attorney for SMEAA in addition to providing free legal service to represent the SMEAA candidates before the electoral board, said Wednesday that in Casper's case, he's not sure he agrees with the board, but thinks its decision is clearly based on what the statute says.

But in the cases of Yeager and Austin, Stratton said, he thinks the electoral board is taking different pieces of things from different places and kind of mushing it all together and saying 'this is what we think it means.' (State Journal-Register, February 22, 2007)
Ms. Yeager, in a feeble attempt to save her dignity, chose to ignore the 1988 decision and allowed her pro bono attorneys to file a formal legal appeal:
Her lawsuit says neither state law nor a federal voting rights decree concerning SMEAA spell out the residency requirement. The law states only that petition signers must come from the metropolitan area, not individual subdistricts, the lawsuit states. That district is all of Woodside, Capital and Springfield townships. (State Journal-Register, March 03, 2007)

Bottom line for her only justification in several pages of legal jargon: she was right and the Board was wrong. Judy feels that the Board has created a hodgepodge of the law. There are five SMEAA districts that everyone has treated as one at-large district. This is the way it has always been. She feels no need to change it now at the expense of her seat on the SMEAA Board.

In contrast, Mr. Ziri chose to adhere to the changes in the law and correctly appealed the Republican petitions. Ultimately, two events will occur on March 23, 2007: (1) Ms. Yeager will lose her appeal -- and a little of her dignity. (2) Mr. Ziri will successfully break up the monopolizing Republican good ol’ boys’ network for one special district in Sangamon County.

Monopolizing is an understatement. There are two attorneys losing this case. The first is none other than Bruce Stratton of Stratton, Giganti, Stone & Kopec. Their
client list includes numerous public organizations and a few non-profits. One of them is SMEAA. Another notable mention from the Stratton, et al., client list is the Springfield Park District. His son is the district director (aka, the highest paid non-elected boss in the park hierarchy) . Obviously, conflicts of interest, and Mr. Stratton continues the losing legal battle to keep the SMEAA checks rolling in. The appeals hearing is March 23, 2007. The Consolidated Election is April 17, 2007. On April 18, 2007, his firm will be short one public organization on his client list.

If anyone wonders why anyone would fight so hard for a membership on the SMEAA Board and non-mandatory monthly meetings, it is obvious. The answer lies in the State Journal-Register and the Stratton website: contracts and jobs for family, friends, and any acquaintance that appears out of the woodwork.

Once the new Democratic members begin their tenure on the SMEAA Board, we hope to fulfill the entertainment and cultural needs of the people, said Mr. Ziri. He continued, I am not running for the Board to provide jobs to friends and family or free tickets to acquaintances. I and the other Democratic candidates are running to take SMEAA towards a progressively activist future. Government of friends, family, and bosses clearly do not meet the needs of citizens.

Mr. Stratton's co-counsel in the appeals process and the second attorney in the losing Republican monopoly is Justin Reichert. He is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Yeager. He is a precinct committeeman (RE:
p. 377).

Sometimes one vote is the difference between winning an election or losing it. Other times knowing the law is the difference. Michael Patrick Ziri, candidate for SMEAA District 1, is now a sure thing thanks to the latter. An excellent reason to
donate to his campaign.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Choose Wimpy Over Hypocritical

Congressman John Shimkus (IL-19) feels teaching is important. It is sometimes more important to him than doing his job on The Hill. He likes to pretend that he is good at it. Maybe. He also likes to pretend that he is a good congressional representative. Definitely not.

Earlier this month, Rep. Shimkus gave a lecture on the Constitution to the eighth-graders at Holy Cross Lutheran School in Collinsville. He has an issue with voting present, and let the students know about it.

If there is one thing U.S. Rep. John Shimkus wanted to convey to the eighth-graders at Holy Cross Lutheran School on Monday it was that if they had a question about the federal government, they could find the answer in the Constitution.

He also showed students his identification card, which is also used when he votes on resolutions, and explained the voting process where a red button means no, a green button is yes, and an orange button is present.

I don't get sent to Washington to vote 'present', he said.
'Present' is the wimpiest of all the votes (Collinsville Herald, 03/14/2007).
So John Shimkus considers present the wimpiest vote. To anyone watching the news, it was an obvious jab at Senator Barak Obama voting present very recently.

It is better for him to
vote present and own up to it than vote present and tell a bunch of students that he only votes yes or no and present is the wimpiest. It is also more acceptable for a congressman to vote present a lot if he provided the least bit support (of ANY kind) to the servicemembers. Here is an example of the John Shimkus voting record. This was only 10 months ago.
House Roll No. 156
May 18, 2006 12:16 AM
Amendment to Amendment 2 to H CON RES 376 (On Agreeing to the Amendment)

House Roll No. 188
Jun 25, 2001 6:46 PM
No Vote
H CON RES 161 -- Honoring the 19 United States Servicemen who Died in the Terrorist Bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996 (under suspension of the rules)
Passed 379-0, 53 not voting
Voters sent him back to The Hill. More voters should put him back in schools. What a choice: corrupting a state and consequently the country or corrupting young minds. Actually -- not much of a choice.

Maybe he should reconsider his name and use Congressman Wimpy. Maybe not. It would be an insult to Popeye's friend, Wimpy. He just continues to live up to his name: Congressman Zero.

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