Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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Time once again to dive in to another round of quick takes on the people and events that were being talked about over the past week:

‘The Madigan Rule’

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is a historic figure, at least in this state.

And though he’s gone — having resigned under the pressure of a federal criminal investigation of the Commonwealth Edison bribery conspiracy — he’s not forgotten. Far from it.

That’s why Chicago’s Better Government Association has put together a series of podcasts outlining the Democrat’s decades-long role in shaping state and local government.

“The Madigan Rule” is a BGA podcast that takes listeners inside the story of how Madigan ran Illinois — for good and for ill. Hosted by Justin Kaufmann, a veteran radio host who covered Madigan, it features interviews with people who witnessed Madigan’s exercise of power: governors, lawmakers, journalists and politicos.

“They feared him and revered him and had no choice but to reckon with his rules. It’s the Madigan Rule: a podcast about Illinois’ most powerful politician, featuring those who knew him well,” the organization states.

Those curious to hear it can search its name online. It’s on the BGA’s website and also can be found on most podcasting platforms. The first two parts of the five-part series are available now.

Those who find politics interesting or are curious as to how state, local and county government work in Illinois are well advised to take a listen.

Madigan is one of a kind, a fascinatingly sociopathic practitioner of the black art of politics in our corrupt and dysfunctional state. It should provide quite a tutorial.

Is it possible to fight City Hall?

Don’t bet the house on it. But citizens of Crestwood, a small Cook County suburb, had all they could stand, and they couldn’t stand no more.

So they lashed out at a shady public deal and — miracle of miracles — came out on top.

Here’s what happened.

Under indictment for bribery-related charges, longtime Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta thought he had figured out a way to stay on the public payroll.

Claiming to be too ill to continue as mayor, Presta decided to resign and take a newly created job as the municipality’s economic development director. The new job would pay $65,000 a year, the same as the mayor’s office.

But residents, outraged at the self-dealing by their selfless public servants, spoke out in opposition.

“I don’t know anybody who steps out of a job when they’re ill, then steps into another job that pays the same amount. That doesn’t make sense,” said one of multiple residents who opposed the plan.

Public outrage was so strong that Presta, suddenly claiming that he wasn’t as ill as he first thought, backed off and decided not to resign — at least not now.

But the mayor wasn’t happy. The Chicago Sun-Times said Presta was “visibly angry” during a public hearing at the community’s civic center during which citizens challenged the plan.

Illinois elected officials aren’t shy about feeding at the public trough. But they usually maneuver behind the scenes. Presta’s plan made the news before it could become a fait accompli, demonstrating once again how important a vigilant news media can be.

Presta, who is 71, is ensnared in an FBI investigation of a red-light-camera bribery scandal. He’s tentatively scheduled to attend an Oct. 29 hearing in federal court to enter a guilty plea, a move that will force him to resign as mayor.

Investigators have alleged that public officials including Presta, in exchange for cash payoffs, approved legislation allowing companies to install red-light cameras that issue speeding tickets to passing motorists. It’s a Big Brother-type scam municipalities use to fill their coffers and officials use to pad their wallets.

The cameras can be highly lucrative for all concerned, unless the feds come snooping around, as they did in Presta’s case.

After his proposed job switch was announced, Presta took great umbrage at the suggestion his pending indictment was related to his resignation for health reasons.

“This has got nothing to do with that,” he said.

Of course, Presta couldn’t have made his planned move without the assistance of his fellow politicos in Crestwood.

They were all in it together. Normally, that’s more than enough. But the angry public response generated by news reports on Presta’s plan stopped it cold.

Crestwood citizens should savor this rare victory over business as usual in Illinois government.

Context, context, context

The news media has devoted maximum attention to the coronavirus pandemic, but has sometimes failed to put events in the proper context.

One grievous example is the highly misleading comparison between the death toll exacted by the 1918 flu pandemic and the coronavirus pandemic. News reports have suggested that because the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus (which is now above 700,000) exceeds the 675,000 deaths from the 1918 flu, it means that the current pandemic is more severe than the one a centruy ago.

Local pathologist Dr. Bruce Wellman explained why that assessment is inaccurate.

“The absolute number of U.S. deaths exceeds the total number of U.S. deaths estimated to have occurred during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-19,” he said. “However, the number of deaths per 1 million population for the Spanish flu remains 6 to 8 times higher than the number of U.S. deaths per million for COVID. At that time, the U.S. population was about 100 million. So the death rate per capita for the Spanish flu is actually significantly higher than COVID-19.”

Yes, deer

As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, the thoughts of deer turn to love.

So be advised, warns the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, because deer mating season poses a traffic-safety risk.

Preoccupied by the desire to reproduce, “deer become especially active, mainly at dawn and dusk from October through December,” the agency said.

“Slow down and pay attention in areas where they are known to travel. And remember — don’t veer for deer,” it warned. “While the urge to swerve is instinctual, it can cause (drivers) to lose control of (their) vehicles and increase the severity of a crash.”

In 2020, there were 13,787 vehicle/deer crashes in Illinois, 43 percent of which occurred during from October to December. Ten of the crashes led to fatalities.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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