Media spins politics in state government issues
The Daily Herald has been doing a lot of stories critical of the Illinois Tollway Authority. Some think it has less to do with good journalism and more to do with the friendship between the newspaper’s reporter and a controversial member of the Tollway Authority board who has been criticized in a Tollway memo for harassing Tollway employees
By Ray Hanania
Only three out of the past eight governors of Illinois since 1969 have been Democrats. The rest have been Republicans. Republicans controlled 35 of those years while Democrats only controlled 16.
Of the three Democrats, two went to jail, Dan Walker and Rod Blagojevich. George Ryan was the only one of the five Republicans to go to jail.
You can analyze this data any way you want and spin a lot of tales from it all. But it just might explain why voters continue to elect Republicans as Illinois governors, and it certainly might also explain why the majority of the state’s appointments have been mostly Republican, including at the Illinois Tollway Authority.
I’ve covered seven of those governors, and Arlington Heights Daily-Herald writer Marni Pyke, who writes about transportation, has covered four. That might explain why a recent news story Pyke wrote misses the real issues. She doesn’t seem to get it. Pyke wrote a story suggesting Republican cronyism plagues the Illinois Tollway Authority, and she cited as her evidence that six of the Tollway’s recent “hires” were well-known Republicans.
Pyke has authored a number of stories that many objective observers consider to be “one-sided,” like the one she wrote defending Tollway Board member Joseph Gomez against accusations of “bullying.” Gomez is a Democrat appointed by, ironically enough, a Republican Governor, Bruce Rauner.
In letters and memos released by Tollway Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom recently, Gomez is said to have engaged in “verbal abuse” and “harassment” towards employees and staff, who happen to be Republicans.
Schillerstrom, who is highly regarded, said Gomez directed profanity at a Tollway communications employee who followed Gomez out of a board meeting when Gomez went to have a conversation in the hallway with none-other-than Marni Pyke. That happened just before Pyke wrote one of her one-sided stories critical of the Tollway, Rauner and the Tollway’s new executive director, Liz Gorman.
Some believe the Daily Herald’s sudden interest in Tollway contracts and “Republicans” has a lot to do with the Gomez controversy.
Who really knows in politics?
What we do know, though, is that the Tollway’s “executive leadership team” is almost entirely comprised of staff from “previous administrations,” according to Tollway spokesman Dan Rozek. Rozek told Pyke that nine of 13 top executives were employed before Rauner became governor.
Besides placing a negative spin on Gorman, who has been having issues with Gomez, Pyke’s story has selectively showcased others like Sue Gowen, who many know as having served dutifully for the popular Judy Baar Topinka who died in 2014. Gorman and Topinka were champions of Illinois taxpayers and fought against unnecessary tax hikes across the state.
Other hires showcased in the Daily Herald hit-piece include: Tollway CEO Kevin Artl worked for former U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, who suffered from paralysis and was forced to retire; deputy Chief of Staff Phillip Rodriguez who previously worked for Rauner and former Comptroller Leslie Munger who was named Comptroller after Topinka’s death; Richard Bossert, a longtime state executive employee, was hired by Gorman to handle communications; and Laura Durkin, the sister-in-law of Republican Legislator Jim Durkin, was hired as a general manager of engineering.
These are not people who were hired without qualifications or experience. It’s a cheap shot to make it look like Rauner or Gorman are dragging inexperienced, unqualified people to the public trough.
It’s more like the result of a journalist who is taking up the cause of another disgruntled Tollway official with an axe to grind. Throw in a few high-profile names and suddenly you have “cronyism.”
I’m a big fan of Liz Gorman. I can’t forget how she fought to reverse the Todd Stroger sales tax at the Cook County board. And when she left, she was replaced by a colleague, Sean Morrison, who did the same to block the soda pop tax by Toni Preckwinkle. Stroger and Preckwinkle are both Democrats by the way.
(Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. You can reach him at his personal website at www.Hanania.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published in the Regional News Newspaper, the Reporter Newspaper and the Southwest News-Herald newspaper group.)