Baseball · Politics · Radio

Thirty years ago, Illinois defeated Florida – Jim Thompson got the save

 

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The owners of the Chicago White Sox were adamant: they were going to get a new ballpark.

As for “In what state?,” Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn were open-minded.

The Sox had played on Chicago’s south side since 1901. However, in the summer of 1988, business leaders and politicians were offering a sweet deal in St. Petersburg if the Sox would become Florida’s first Major League Baseball team.

A cherished dream of many Floridians — the state’s own major-league baseball team — moved closer to reality Tuesday when legislators approved a $30 million plan to lure the Chicago White Sox to St. Petersburg.

”We are extremely pleased,” said Larry Arnold, chief assistant city manager of St. Petersburg.

”We have taken a major step toward bringing major-league baseball to Florida. We have every hope that they’re going to be in St. Petersburg in 1989.”

Supporters of the plan said Tuesday’s votes by the House and the Senate significantly increased the odds that the White Sox will play ball next year in a 43,000-seat domed stadium under construction in downtown St. Petersburg. 

This was a fact: Unless Illinois lawmakers passed the stadium bill by midnight (60 votes needed in the House) on June 30, the White Sox would be Florida-bound on July 1. The reason: after that date, the legislative bar would be raised. A proposal as controversial as the $150 million taxpayer-funded White Sox stadium bill would never get the super-majority (71 House votes) needed for approval after June 30.

On June 30, the stadium bill needed to first get 30 votes to clear the Senate, itself a seemingly impossible task.

It all had to happen by midnight.

In the Senate, Chicago Democrats favored the proposal, but at least three Republicans needed to join them. Noted Chicago-hater James “Pate” Phillip of DuPage County was the Republican Senate leader. His opposition meant no Republicans were willing to vote for the stadium bill.

But the Save Our Sox campaign had some well-placed supporters.

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Governor Jim Thompson, a Chicago Republican popular in his hometown, understood losing one of the city’s two Major League teams would be a blow to the local and state economies. Thompson, in his fourth and final term as governor, also knew a departure of the the White Sox on his watch would stain his legacy.

It was more personal for Speaker Michael Madigan, a White Sox fan whose legislative district is located on Chicago’s south side. But, regardless of what Madigan wanted, saving the Sox would be impossible without Republican support.

June 30, 1988

In the late afternoon on June 30, based on Senate President Phillip’s opposition, Lt. Gov. George Ryan pronounced the Sox stadium bill “dead.”

Phillip had a vice-like grip on his members, so there was no reason to doubt Ryan as the bill awaited a Senate vote.  But, Gov. Thompson wasn’t giving up.

“I said, ‘Pate, this is personal. I want this stadium and you have to help me,'” Thompson said.

In a surprise, Phillip dropped his opposition, allowing his members to vote as they wished. The Senate Minority Leader smirked as Thompson prowled the Senate floor, looking for Republicans willing to support the bill.

Shockingly, Thompson convinced three Republicans to go along, giving the bill the minimum 30 votes needed. As soon as the votes were tallied, Thompson and his lobbying team literally sprinted into the House chamber to try to get the bill passed before the midnight deadline.

What happened next was as dramatic as anything that happened at Comiskey Park in the during the 80 years it hosted ballgames.

The sound in the House chamber was a dull roar. The atmosphere was extremely tense.

Thompson scurried around the Republican side of the aisle in a feverish attempt to find supporters. Voting for a stadium for Chicago was not an easy sell for downstate and suburban Republicans.

Every Republican Representative was a potential supporter, as far as the governor was concerned. With all eyes on him, and with Speaker Madigan’s support, Thompson unashamedly played “Let’s Make a Deal” on the House floor.

Afterward, there were stories that Thompson was awarding “pork” projects right and left. One legislator said the governor had promised to support him for Secretary of State.

I’m not sure how a representative could hear any of the promises being made. The decibel level in the chamber ranged from “very loud” to, as midnight drew near, “deafening.”

Ordinarily, a bill is read and debated, voting opens and, after 30 seconds or less of members being prodded “Have all voted who wish?”, voting ends and results are tallied and posted. Reporting a legislative vote “live” for the radio is an uncomplicated task, normally.

What happened shortly before midnight on the evening of June 30, 1988, was not normal.

In the House press box, with a phone jammed against my ear but unable to hear anything being said to me by the WMAQ-AM news producers back in Chicago, I had to assume I was “live” on the air. With one eye on the House tote board and the other on Gov. Thompson twisting arms on the House floor, more than 20 minutes of radio “play-by-play” was improvised for audiences in Chicago and St. Petersburg.

Here are the last eight minutes of the WMAQ broadcast of the House vote. Listen for the tone signaling midnight.

Illinois Issues:

Senators, having adjourned for the night, filled the rear of the House chamber. When the voting opened in the House several members did not register their votes on the electronic board. The voting was closed, thereby forcing representatives to declare their votes. The board showed only 54 yes votes, and 60 were required. The roll call was not announced, giving Thompson and other supporters time to convince reluctant representatives to change their votes. The clock on the vote board was switched off, so nobody could be sure of the exact time. Slowly six representatives, three from each party, asked that their votes be changed from no to yes. When the 60th vote was lit up on the board the vote was immediately announced, as well as the time of 11:59 p.m., although the printed roll call recorded the time at 12:03 a.m.

WMAQ was the only news outlet to broadcast the entire vote “live.” Chicago TV stations, believing the Sox bill was dead, had left Springfield while Chicago’s radio news leader, WBBM, cut away from the Statehouse to air CBS network news at the top of the hour.

WBBM took the “midnight deadline” literally. Speaker Madigan did not.

In the House, after many observers saw their watches read past midnight, the constitutionally mandated adjournment time, the House passed the measure by a 60-55 vote. The published roll call read 12:03 a.m. Friday, which normally would mandate any bill passing by a three-fifths majority, or 71 votes.

“I don`t think there is a judge in the nation, especially in Illinois, who would challenge this,” said Madigan (D., Chicago), who also had strong-armed three Democrats to switch their votes before the electronic toteboard was closed.

“By my watch, it was 11:59′” Madigan said.  “I didn’t know this would pass. The Republicans told me they had seven votes when we went in, but the governor and I and all the members took risks and passed this bill to keep the White Sox in Chicago.”

It was akin to the White Sox coming from behind to win after the final out had been recorded.

“You bet I was worried,” a relieved Thompson told reporters. “Wouldn’t you be worried? Weren’t you watching the votes? This is a political resurrection from the dead, a baseball resurrection from the dead.”

During his 14 years as the state’s chief executive, Jim Thompson usually governed with Republican minorities in both the House and Senate. He won some and lost some but, unlike the current governor, Thompson would never have claimed he was “not in charge.”

Because Jim Thompson knew how to govern, he was able to save the White Sox for Chicago and Illinois.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

Had Thompson failed, Chicago would have missed out on an amazing 2005 season.

The stadium bill’s passing meant the end for a great ballpark. Watch a brief documentary on Comiskey Park

Aerial photo of Comiskey, taken during the 1959 World Series

Watch the final three outs at old Comiskey.

A look at what might have been from a Tampa-St. Petersburg baseball fan 

*This Sox stadium anniversary post is a revised and updated version of a McBarronBlog post from last year.

 

 

Politics

You can’t out-Trump Trump

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With a worldwide audience watching, a prominent celebrity stood on a stage and proudly uttered, twice, the word that tops the list of things you can’t say on television.

The great actor Robert DiNiro seemed to be taking a page from the Donald Trump playbook with an over-the-top, non-substantive attack on the President during his brief moment in the spotlight at the Tony Awards.  What was DiNiro’s point? What was he trying to accomplish with the profane comment?

Aside from making sure everyone knew he didn’t like the President (anyone  paying attention was already aware), the point seemed to be to get a standing ovation.

Mission accomplished.

But how many people who didn’t already agree the current president is a disaster and a menace to the United States changed their opinion as a result of DiNiro’s outburst?

I’ll go out on a limb and estimate the number is “zero.”

I will also speculate a much larger number of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016, but have been experiencing remorse, reacted to DiNiro’s attack and the standing ovation by deciding that a “A guy who pisses off a bunch of overpaid liberal elites wearing tuxedos and evening gowns can’t be all bad.”

Consciously or not, DiNiro was playing Trump’s game by revving up people who already agreed with him. That is not how patriotic Americans can expect to end Trumpism.

Trump was perceived by many of his voters as offering hope, if you can call “What the hell do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump,” a hopeful statement. He promised everything to working people and is delivering nothing. In fact, he’s Robin Hood in reverse.

The Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told the Guardian it was profoundly important that international observers were speaking out about Trump’s impact. “This administration inherited a bad situation with inequality in the US and is now fanning the flames and worsening the situation. What is so disturbing is that Trump, rather than taking measures to ameliorate the problem, is taking measures to aggravate it.”

Top of the list of those measures was the $1.5tn tax cutsenacted by the Republicans last December that slashed corporate tax rates. “Can you believe a country where the life expectancy is already in decline, particularly among those whose income is limited, giving tax breaks to billionaires and corporations while leaving millions of Americans without health insurance?” Stiglitz said.

That is what you talk about when you have the attention of a large group of people if you want to end Trumpism.

Though I’m sure it’s exhilarating to be the man dropping F-bombs on a worldwide audience, it is counter-productive. Time spent defending your use of vulgar language, or debating whether you are being disrespectful to the office of the president, etc, is time you could be using to convince voters to examine what their true self-interests are and to support candidates who actually support programs and policies that will benefit working people.

The first opportunity to bring Trumpism to heel comes in November when Democrats can grab control of the House of Representatives (the Senate might be in play, but the smart people think that’s a long shot). For (at least) one chamber of Congress to finally be able to check the president requires Trumpism opponents win elections in their communities. Doing that means communicating policy ideas in language that will be welcomed and which elucidates the real damage being caused by Trump and Trumpism.

Trumpism will end when people who supported the current president based on his promises and not his personality realize they need to act differently in the next elections.

Mr. DiNiro, with all due respect, the next time you have the world’s attention, please  choose your words with more care than you’ve used in choosing movie roles (like this, and this) in the last decade.

Trumpisn needs to be ended as soon as possible. Trump rode profane name calling and vulgar language to Washington. Trying to out Trump Trump will do nothing to get him out of the White House.

 

 

Crooks · Politics

Trump and Blago: It takes one to know one

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He didn’t build many bridges while in office, but Rod Blagojevich sure burned a few. That’s why, aside from his devoted wife Patti, few have spoken in support for an early release for the twice-elected former Illinois Governor.

Audio tapes played at his trial showed Blagojevich believed he had something “golden” in the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama and he wanted to be paid for it. Conspiring to “sell” the seat, along with lying to the FBI, bought Blago 14 years in the federal pen.

The current President of the United States today initiated a discussion of whether Blago has suffered enough, while misstating the number years in the prison sentence.

“Because what he did does not justify 18 years in a jail. If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse,” he said. “And it doesn’t, he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

Fortunately, former Statehouse reporter Don Sevener recently posted to his blog a mini-refresher course on the Blagojevich years, which reminds us that much, though certainly not all, of the blame for Illinois’ current fiscal mess belongs to Blago.

The governor had a billion-dollar appetite for new spending but a budget insufficient to feed it. Unwilling to raise taxes to support his hunger, he took pension “holidays” — i.e. robbing the state’s retirement systems — to pay for populist (and sometimes popular) new programs and initiatives that the state could not afford. He wasn’t the first or only governor to use the tactic, but he was the most extravagant. 

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In office barely two months, Blagojevich demanded higher education institutions return what amounted to a quarter of their state appropriation. He then cut higher education budgets — shortchanging students who faced higher tuition and seeding the demise of a higher education system that once ranked among the elite of the nation.

Let’s also remember that the evidence that gave Blagojevich a place of honor in the team photo of corrupt Illinois politicians included a scheme in which the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital saw $8 million in promised state health care funding withheld from his facility.

Mr. Blagojevich on Oct. 8 discussed with one of his campaign fundraisers pressing the executive — named in the criminal complaint as “Hospital Executive 1” — for a $50,000 campaign contribution, allegedly a quid pro quo for the governor’s recent funding commitment, according to the affidavit.

“I’m going to do $8 million for them. I want to get (Hospital Executive 1) for 50,” Mr. Blagojevich told the fundraiser, according to the 78-page affidavit.

Mr. Blagojevich had a conversation with a deputy governor about the status of the funding, as described in the affidavit: “The pediatric doctors — the reimbursement. Has that gone out yet, or is that still on hold?” Mr. Blagojevich asked.

“It’s January 1,” a deputy governor responded.

“And we have total discretion over it?” he asked.

“Yep,” a deputy governor replied.

“We could pull it back if we need to – budgetary concerns – right?”

A deputy replied “yep,” to which the governor said: “That’s good to know,” according to the affidavit.

Again, we’re talking about a hospital that treats sick children. They never did get the money.

Why would this President consider a pardon commuting the sentence for a not too bright, but extremely greedy, selfish jerk, lacking any principles, who screwed over the people who put him in office and cared only about himself and his immediate family?

Let’s just say Donald Trump understands Rod Blagojevich.

Should he decide to spring the former governor, perhaps the President could help Blagojevich get back on his feet by giving him a job in his administration.

As bad as he is, Blagojevich has more experience in government than most Trump cabinet members.

And as for the moral impact on this Administration, it’s a wash.

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McBarronBlog Bonus Links

CapitolFax: Blagojevich again attempts to rewrite history

Life, in particular: Throw Away the Key

VIDEO: A man who never takes responsibility tries to get Rod Blagojevich to take responsibility.