Race, poverty and politics: Mixed reviews on cab strike; Rep. Smith's attorney wants House to slow down; Rep. Joe Walsh has controversial week

Chicago cab drivers held a partial strike Monday, the success of which varies depending on whom you speak with. Fayez Khozindar, chair of the United Taxidrivers Community Council–which staged the strike–claimed several times this week that “80 percent” of the city’s cab drivers were on strike from 6-11 a.m., Monday. There are roughly 12,000 cab drivers citywide; so, according to Khozindar, 9,600 were not on the road Monday. Unfortunately, there’s no way to confirm that. George Lutfallah, publisher of The Chicago Dispatcher–which covers the city’s taxi industry–said the strike was a success based on the lack of cabs at O’Hare International Airport on Monday. Media reports on its success were varied. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said it noticed no major disruption Monday morning. UTCC called the strike after a new city ordinance hikes prices drivers will have to pay to lease cabs but contains no fare increase to pay for it. Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander told The Chicago Reporter that a fare increase is “not on the table”. Ninth Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, who is behind the new taxi law, has called for a hearing on the rate hike. No date has been announced and, through a spokesperson, Beale refused to comment on the matter. The UTCC is planning another strike on Monday, from 6-11 a.m.

The bi-partisan House committee tasked with deciding whether to punish or expel indicted 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith, needs to slow down, according to Smith’s attorney, Victor Henderson. Henderson–who has gained a reputation for his colorful style–told Illinois Statehouse News this week that he has a problem with the committee’s “timeline”. “She [Chair Barbara Flynn-Currie] said they were going to be ‘fair and deliberate,’ and this expedited hearing schedule stands in stark contrast to what was represented publicly,” Henderson told the Statehouse News. Henderson declined to tell the Reporter what evidence he planned to introduce, as did 16th District state Rep. Lou Lang, the Democrat presenting the case to the committee. Lang said he and 94th District state Rep. Jim Durkin, his Republican colleague working on the case, were still finalizing the evidence they planned to introduce. Smith, a West Side Democrat, was indicted for allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe. Smith claims he is innocent.

On Saturday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law the state’s $33.7 billion fiscal year 2013 budget. In doing so, he blocked $57 million in spending that state lawmakers set aside for prisons and mental health facilities. Quinn wants to redirect that money to the Department of Children and Family Services. In May, state lawmakers axed $50 million in funding to the department, which cares for neglected and abused children. Lawmakers will still have to OK the shift in money before DCFS can use it. After announcing his prison-closing plan, Quinn reversed course this week and said a handful of transitional centers will remain open. He also suggested selling the Tamms Correctional Center–one of the prisons slated for closure–to the federal government, something that could prove difficult. Quinn has also drawn heat for his prison-closing plan because of the jobs that will be lost.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Quinn Thursday aims to make it more difficult for fugitives to flee by tightening up the Illinois Criminal Code. A loophole allowed immediate family members to be exempt from prosecution if they helped a relative escape. SB2520 “makes it a Class 4 felony for an offender’s immediate family members over the age of 18 to assist them in fleeing, or to intentionally prevent the seizure and arrest of the offender. Violators will face between one and three years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine.” Until the bill was passed, Illinois was one of 14 states with an exception for family members.

The Illinois Department of Human Services doesn’t investigate when individuals die of severe mistreatment, and rejects hundreds of calls for help through its hotline, according to an investigation by the Belleville News Democrat. The report on the agency created to prevent the abuse or neglect of disabled adults created a firestorm that was further inflamed by revelations that when someone dies, the agency closes the case without investigating further. The News Democrat said documents show the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services (OIG) is prohibited from investigating the moment a death occurs. The OIG considers such an investigation a ‘service,’ and the dead are ‘ineligible for services’ under the agency’s interpretation of Rule 51 — a legislative directive that governs the Adults with Disabilities Abuse Project. The agency failed to investigate the deaths of 53 disabled adults that may have involved neglect or abuse. In response to the reports, Gov. Quinn said he was “disturbed” and “saddened.”

A union representing janitorial workers at O’Hare International Airport is appealing to Mayor Emanuel to squash a $99 million contract with a firm the union claims will replace current workers with lower-paid employees, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday. The Service Employees International Union said it was told that if the new O’Hare contract is given to United Maintenance Company, the company will hire its own workforce. This means that new workers will be hired and paid the minimum prevailing wage to do the work that current employees do–expected to be less than the current contract. “While we cannot comment on a pending contract or potential bidder, the city is committed to providing top-rate custodial services at the airports for our passengers at a competitive cost,” Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton, told the Tribune.

Eighth District U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh told attendess of an Elk Grove town hall Sunday that “Obamacare” will make Latinos hopelessly dependent on the federal government. Chicago NBC 5’s Ward Room blog has a breakdown of the Tea Party darling’s fiery comments. Here’s a taste: “This country, by the year 2030, will be a 50-52 percent Latino country. Halleljuah.  These are wonderful, God-fearing, conservative, patriotic, family-oriented,  pro-life folks. And the Democratic Party is going after ’em. And what they’re  going after them with is this: ‘Come, come. Come to government. Let me make you  dependent upon me. I will give you free contraception….” This is a familiar tune for Walsh. He said something similar about African Americans back in May. At the same town hall meeting, Walsh accused his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, of not being a true hero for what he believes is her incessant references to her military service. During the Iraq war, she lost both legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Walsh carried on this theme during an interview on CNN Wednesday.

Independence day and the evening following it saw another painful reminder of the realities of violence in Chicago, with four people killed and 19 shot overnight. The places where the shootings occurred–the 4200 block of South Wells Street, the 700 block of West 71st Street, the 7500 block of South Union Avenue, the 5500 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue–reads like a laundry list of Chicago’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

–Yana Kunichoff contributed to this post

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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