Race, poverty and politics: Rep. Smith's saga moves to penalty phase; North Side schools get most CPS TIF money; city OKs $12M in protest settlements

Things aren’t getting any easier for indicted 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith. On Wednesday, the House Special Investigating Committee, tasked with looking into accusations Smith took a $7,000 bribe, found there were sufficient reasons to punish him, and asked a new committee be formed to decide what that punishment should be. So now a bi-partisan, 12-member Select Committee on Discipline will decide Smith’s fate. The new committee could expell him, levy no punishment at all, or something in between. Smith’s lawyer, Victor Henderson — who has likened his client to Christ and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.–scoffed at the investigating committee’s decision to move forward. He said the decision was based on “extremely little information … they have almost nothing.” He was referring to the federal government’s refusal to turn over information about its case against Smith to the committee. Smith faces one federal bribery charge, but has pleaded not guilty.

In other 10th District news, the GOP recently nominated a candidate to challenge Smith and third party candidate Lance Tyson. But this week, the appointee, Kimberly Small, drew controversy for Facebook posts mocking President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. One post featured a picture of the first lady in a short skirt, with a caption that read “hoochie mama”. The second post is a joke depicting the president throwing his wife into a baseball field when asked to “throw the first pitch”. Small is running in a district that is predominantly African American.

The City Council Wednesday approved $12 million to settle two wrongful-arrest lawsuits stemming from a massive anti-Iraq War demonstration back in 2003. About 900 plaintiffs will get $11 million, while another $1.14 million will go to 16 plaintiffs involved in another arrest. In that case, the plaintiffs either volunteered to depart the protest peacefully or weren’t even involved in the demonstration but were arrested nonetheless, the Chicago Tribune reported.

On Tuesday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced “sweeping changes” to the Cook County Housing Authority. That’ll come in the form of 4 new board members. The aim is to “boost efficiency and address a backlog of deferred maintenance”, The Associated Press reported. The appointees are: Paul Roldan, Denise Jordan-Walker, Wendy Walker-Williams and Polly Kuehl.  The county’s housing authority is the second largest provider of affordable housing in the state.

A Roosevelt University study on how TIF money is spent on Chicago Public Schools revealed wide disparities in who gets the dough. The study, released Tuesday, revealed that selective enrollment schools receive the majority of TIF funding. 78 percent of the schools receiving TIF funding are on the North Side and are attended by students from more affluent backgrounds. On the flipside, the least amount of TIF money has gone to Black and Latino neighborhood schools on the South and West Sides. Selective enrollment schools comprise 1 percent of CPS schools and receive 25 percent of its funding.

England, Germany and Japan all have a smaller proportion of hungry children than the United States. According to a report released recently by UNICEF, American has the second-highest child-poverty rate in the developed world at 23.1 percent. Romania was the highest at 25.5 percent. The report looks at relative poverty, where the disposable income is less than half of the national median income. A 2010 study found that child poverty was up to 30 percent in Chicago, showing that tens of thousands of families were struggling to feed their children.

Former and current prisoners around the state are crying foul after the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission was stripped of all funding, arguing that many false confessions under police torture will never see the light of day. The Chicago Police Department was the scene of one of the most infamous instances of widespread police torture. Under the command of police Lt. Jon Burge, dozens of men claim to have been beaten or electrically shocked into confessions to murders and other crimes they did not commit. The commission cost $235,000 a year, reported the Chicago Tribune. In response to its closing, the commission is expected to file its first ever report and assign each pending case to a trial judge. But the lack of political power of those who would benefit from the probe is a problem, and may have led to its quiet defunding, David Thomas, its executive director, told the Tribune: “We don’t have a real political constituency. Our people are all in prison.”

-Yana Kunichoff contributed to this piece

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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