Last year this holiday weekend, I was riding a jet ski around Lake Geneva, arms around my husband Eddie, squealing with laughter as we got sprayed with cool water.
This year, I have avoided emails, phone calls and spent the last three days nursing lonely wounds that have gone beyond the possibility of tearful, sweet release.
On Memorial Day last year, I visited my aunt in Wisconsin and drank beers on her patio.
This year my mother-in-law is visiting from India, eating and sleeping a mere three blocks away, and I am not part of her world anymore.
Last year at this time, I was celebrating the Chicago Blackhawks’ blessed run to Stanley Cup glory.
This year, the Hawks are out, and the Bulls too. The Cubs don’t seem primed to lift anyone’s spirits.
In 2010, the spring was unnaturally warm, with 80 degree, sunny days that stretched back into April.
In 2011, I wore my winter coat until May 27, and the rain won’t stop.
Last year I had my health, and my health insurance, and both seemed invincible.
This year I am counting down the days until surgery will relieve my body of a cervical cancer invasion.
A lot of things are different since 365 days ago. Not many of them are upgrades.
The annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder has arrived early for me in 2010. Typically, my serotonin levels begin to drop as the days grow shorter and colder, but this year, my brain is slipping into despondency before the heat even dies. It has been a hot, wet season and that’s my wheelhouse, so I suppose it seems curious that I have chosen to take up residence in Chicago. It seems logical that if you want to fight the winter blues, maybe leaving a City that is damp and dark for nine months of the year would be your first step. What can I say? My masochism is twofold. Apparently I require the bracing, biting cold to remind me of summer’s beauty and value, and I can’t shake this morbid fascination with Illinois politics and all the carnivalesque oddities it brings.
This year, early onset SAD is hitting me in profound ways. I don’t want to let go – of the beach, the street festivals, the outdoor restaurant seating. One of my favorite sights this year has been the scene of children playing and riding bicycles until 10:00 PM, as I sit and quietly sip wine on my balcony. The season of fun and frivolity is now behind these kids. Do they feel the loss as I do?
I am also in no humor to welcome the Fall, for reasons that have nothing to do with a Peter Pan-like desire to extend fun in the sun. If it’s September, than that means we have to start taking the November elections seriously. One need not actively participate in the gamesmanship and punditry to feel the effects. Watching the evening news, picking up the paper before your morning commute, then the often frustrating act of voting, which usually means choosing the lesser of two to three evils – it’s enough to make one wish they were still underage.
Though there are many obnoxious and odd matchups in elections across the country, the State of Illinois makes a great case for having the most dispiriting contests around. Though Prairie State politics are historically dicey, we do occasionally get the proverbial Paul Simon/Barack Obama bone thrown at us.
This year, I am very sad to report, there is no such luck. One candidate after another is guilty of complete and total buffoonery. Let’s take the Governor’s race as an example. In this corner, we have sitting Executive Pat Quinn. Quinn is the sad sack who had to step in rather unceremoniously and take the reins after the ignominious fall of one Rod Blagojevich. Quinn inherited an office beset by felony convictions and deplorable fiscal irresponsibility. However, he is a good, if boring fellow, who has spent the last two years watching every plea for reform fall on a large crowd of deaf ears. Thus Illinois now carries the title of “Most Debt Ridden, Least Business Attractive,” State in the Union. This is far from Quinn’s fault in entirety, yet it is clear that it is he who must wear the crown of thorns [cue video of vociferous booing of Governor Quinn at June’s Stanley Cup rally].
Quinn’s competition for the Governor’s mansion arrives in the form of State Senator Bill Brady, a man whose strategy thus far consists of relying on the incumbent’s low polling numbers as a path to victory. Brady has adopted any means necessary to avoid the hassle of actually discussing the issues in public. The Republican’s plan to address the shortfall in revenue and human services, according to his website, includes a resolve to “cut taxes by a billion dollars, as well as reduce spending throughout the state.” With a budget deficit currently hovering around the $13 billion dollar mark, how can Brady justify cutting taxes, and what specific programs would he cut to begin to offset the already terrific revenue imbalance? Don’t know. He won’t say. Like every other good politician in Illinois, he is going to await being voted in before delineating his plans to drag us further into the red.
In the spirit of comic relief, I will briefly mention the third party, Independent Candidate for Governor, Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen had a brief flirtation with political shame and notoriety earlier this year, after winning, then promptly resigning the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor. The pawn broker was chased away from the Quinn ticket after surfacing allegations of domestic violence, prostitution, drug abuse and rage filled outbursts. Deviant behavior from a pawn shop proprietor? Never saw it coming!
I am almost too exhausted at this point to get into the Senate contest. On the left we have the Democratic Alexi Giannoulias, a once good friend of Barack Obama’s who has begun to see his calls go to voicemail since his business venture, Broadway Bank, was shut down by the FDIC this past January. What, you mean a Wall Street charlatan might not be the kind of ally for which the President is looking? Well why ever not? A man who previously failed to protect the State’s finances in his elected role as Treasurer, while simultaneously running a bank into the ground may be good at malfunction multi-tasking, but this hardly qualifies him to make decisions for the voting public on a greater scale.
Republican challenger Mark Kirk, a current U.S. Congressmen, has experienced PR infractions that appear relatively minor compared to the rest of this lot. He has since backtracked from a statement made at a 2002 House Committee hearing, where Kirk declared himself a recipient of the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award. The politician’s fib was exposed by the Washington Post in May of this year. Not so smart now, are we Kirk?
Oh and by the way, both Giannoulias and Kirk are running to fill the seat of Roland Burris, the half term Senator who may or may not have cut a deal with Blago to take the chair of newly elected President Barack Obama. Though Burris could not be prevailed upon to resign after allegations surfaced in early 2009, he has decided to decline seeking re-election in order to make room for a younger, less experienced goofball.
Pass the melatonin and another glass of wine my friends. It’s going to be a rough autumn.
Though it took me, and the rest of the City, a minute or two to process what happened, it sure feels good to be a Chicagoan today. Last night, after Buffalo native and youngster Patrick Kaine slipped the puck past Flyers’ goaltender Michael Leighton, for a 4-3 overtime victory over Philadelphia, and handed the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961, Windy City residents were stuck in a lengthy moment of determined disbelief.
In the first place, the final flash, the end of an eight month, bruising journey that is the NHL season, was a bit anticlimactic. I had to watch the replay several times to finally grasp that a puck had gone into the opposing net. My friend Ann said it best, likening the winning instant to “some one pulling the plug on a video game and then saying ‘oh by the way, you won.’” It was a bit disorienting. Even as I watched Kaine, possibly the only man in the free world who knew immediately that the Hawks had done it, skate down the ice in the midst of a war whoop, I was afraid to trust the emotion.
And that is because, in addition to the end of the game being somewhat unusual, Chicago denizens just aren’t used to winning that often. The last time we had a sporting victory parade was in 2005, when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series. But let’s be honest, some of us (Cub fans – 102 years and counting) felt a little left out of that soiree. Prior to this, it was the late 1990s, the end of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty, when the City last united in drunken revelry with a side order of good natured taxi tipping.
My husband and I discussed the euphoria we experienced on election night 2008, the night Obama stood before hundreds of thousands in Grant Park to become the first African-American President-elect. I suppose many parallels could be drawn between politics and sports, but comparing a momentous moment in American history to a Stanley Cup victory seems to cheapen Obama’s accomplishment. I will never forget that unseasonably warm November evening as long as I live, but it’s still different.
Today is the rare day in this violent, corrupt and financially troubled City when we can all set our differences, factions and grudges aside and enjoy being fellow members of Blackhawks nation. For just a moment or two, the local media has turned its head away from the sideshow of the Rod Blagojevich trial to celebrate something positive and unifying. The parade that will stream down Michigan Avenue tomorrow, as our heroes hoist the Stanley Cup high for all to see, is not a protest, demonstration or some other form of social unrest. The only thing to fear Friday morning is litter, or the vomit piles of over-served revelers.
There just aren’t enough moments like this. I plan to milk it as along as I can. Blago isn’t going anywhere.
Despite what appears to be the inevitable ascent of the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup Glory (!), those of us in the Prairie State don’t get a win that often. In sports, we are a long suffering people. The Bears have not won anything since 1985, the 1990s glory days of the Chicago Bulls are long gone, The White Sox brought it home in 2005 (but honestly, say what you want, the Sox have never been “Chicago’s Team”), and the Cubs? Well, let’s not go there.
We are the State that brought you the bootlegging empire of Al Capone, as well the long reign of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and “outfit” politics. We are the land of unionized crime, and the entity that has sent two of its last three Governors to Federal prison (once the legal formalities of Blago are complete). Last Fall, we also suffered an embarrassing first round exit from the IOC’s final decision making process to determine the host City of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ah yes, we have much to be proud of. No wonder we are also known for our drunkeness.
If it appears that I am guilty of conflating Chicago with the State as a whole, that is by design. Downstaters can howl all they want about Illinois being more than just the Windy City, but facts are facts. Chicagoland (City and suburbs) represents more than 75% of Illinois’ population, and roughly the same percentage of its economy. Take Chi-town out of the equation, and we’re left with just another agriculturally centered Red-leaning state.
However, it is not our legacy of losing, corruption, crime and other forms ignominy that I wish to write about today. As a career advocate for human services in Illinois, I would like to call attention to the sorry, pathetic state of lawmaking, and the attempts by the legislature to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget that make the more publicized financial problems of California and New York appear tame.
The Illinois State Senate is preparing to vote on a package, likely by the end of the day, that does nothing at all to address a badly needed increase of revenues. A 1% income tax hike, responsibly proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, has been shot down over and again, not because lawmakers feel the funds are not needed, but instead because it is considered politically disadvantageous to stand up and do the right thing. The solution, according to these officials, is to attempt to balance the budget, and catch up on backlogged bills, by placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of the social services community – providers who care for children, the aged, the mentally ill, the abused, the homeless and substance abuse addicts. Yes, kick the weak and overworked while they are down. Brilliant!
Under this budget providers will be forced to operate where contracts and funding levels can be changed or cut at any moment. Key points include:
• An Emergency Budget Act that makes funding even more uncertain by giving the Governor unprecedented power (until January 2011) to make additional cuts.
• No human service organization will know about contracts to take affect July 1 for several more weeks, thereby dumping the costs of a quick shut down on the community, clients and staff.
• The Governor will be able to cut budgets at any time.
• There is no solution to late payments; they are simply kicked further down the road.
• There is no comprehensive solution to inadequate human services funding, or the larger issue of the State’s slow descent into insolvency.
If we slice through the political jargon here, what this basically means is that a budget will pass, but no one will know know anything about it until the Governor decides how the money will be allocated. Huh? Last time I checked, the State was not a monarchy. Unacceptable. Don’t we have a right to know where our tax money is going and how it is being use?. Isn’t the point of a budget process to sort all that out upfront? Nope, instead, weak and scared lawmakers are passing the buck right back to Quinn and telling agencies to lobby him for some of those lump sum dollars. What did we hire these people for?
Let’s not wait for the November elections to tell these turkeys how we feel. Call you legislator TODAY and demand better. If you don’t know who your district reps. are, you may access the following website to figure it out:
In our cynical age, activism is often derided as both nerdy and pointless. That’s what they want you to believe because if you stay quiet, the status quo can continue unmolested. Let’s demand better Illinois! Let’s show the rest of the nation that we may produce a lot of silly headlines, but we have some backbone too.