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National Journal picked Illinois' 7th as one of the nation's "10 Most Contorted Congressional Districts." Credit: Google Map by National Journal

National Journal has a look at who wins and who loses in the Congressional redistricting process that happens every 10 years. The piece, which only subscribers can see, also comes with a sidebar on “Modern Gerrymanders,” including maps of the 10 most contorted Congressional districts.

The Midwest has three of the 10. Chicago alone has two. But, this is a pretty subjective list, and we think some Midwest Congressional Districts were robbed. What about the Illinois 17th? Or Indiana’s 4th?

What do you think? What’s the most contorted Congressional district in the Midwest?

We’ve heard a lot in the past few weeks about Chicago and its place among global cities. On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel set forth his proposal for a “new Chicago” that involves a wide variety of infrastructure improvements, private funding and more debt.

Photo by Simonds via flickr

All that is supposed to put the city back among the list of the world’s best cities. But there are suggestions that Chicago actually needn’t bother.

Urbanist Richard Florida looks at why some cities lose and others win in a sweeping piece today on The Atlantic Cities. He notes that the world’s biggest cities have been dramatically reordered since 1950, when Chicago was the second biggest in the U.S. and eighth largest in the world.

Now, Chicago ranks third largest among American cities and 25th in the world. Florida suggests it probably doesn’t stand a chance to become more important, because it’s now part of the world’s tier of second and third-level cities. 

As Florida writes,

“Simulations by Robert Axtell of George Mason University show that the biggest, dominant cities can survive and thrive for a very long time. New York has been America’s largest city since its first census in 1790.  London has been the United Kingdom’s largest city for a very long time. Athens and Rome have remained influential long past their prime. 

But the competition and “churning” among smaller second- and third-tier cities is brutal. These cities rise and fall frequently. Early in the 20th century, rising industrial cities in the United States and Europe displaced once dominant mercantile centers. By the end of that century, many of those same industrial cities were being replaced by knowledge-based ones.”

 And, if Chicago is in this kind of quandary, the outlook for our traditional industrial cities, like Detroit, Milwaukee and Cleveland, might be even more dire on a global scale.
That doesn’t mean they have no role to place in the national or international economy. They just won’t be in the top ranks.
Read Florida’s story at The Atlantic Cities and tell us your reaction. Should Chicago give up?

The petition signatures have all been counted, and now it’s up to Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board to schedule recall elections.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

That is likely to happen on Friday. The board meets at 9 am CT, and you can watch its deliberations live.

The board’s staff released signature tallies on Thursday on recall petitions for Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s lieutenant governor.

There were 931,053 signatures collected for Walker’s recall; 26,114 were discarded by the staff; 4,001 were found to be duplicates and 900,938 were declared valid. That’s far more than required to hold an election. Four state Senators also face recall elections.

If the elections are held, the staff recommended a primary take place on May 8 and the general election, if needed, on June 5.

Read all our coverage of Walker and the Wisconsin elections here.



Detroit's financial review team listened to impassioned arguments during public comment at yesterday's meeting. Credit: screen shot of streaming coverage from

We told you yesterday would probably be a historic day for the city of Detroit. Well, not so much.

The state-appointed financial review team for the city did hold a meeting, as expected. It was a pretty raucous meeting, as our partner station Michigan Radio reported. The reviewteam was required by law to make a recommendation to the governor about how to handle Detroit’s “fiscal crisis.”

There were basically two options: Recommend a consent agreement with the city, or recommend appointing an emergency manager who has the power to toss out union contracts, sell assets and balance the books. At the time of the meeting, no consent agreement had been reached with the city, so the emergency manager option – an option no one really wants – was starting to look more likely. But instead of taking option 1 or 2, the review team took option 3: Restate that there is a fiscal crisis in the city, restate that the team prefers a consent agreement and restate the obvious fact that there is currently no consent agreement. Not exactly a historic decree.

Essentially, the team kicked the can.

Now, according to state law, the governor has 10 days to make a decision. For those keeping track at home, that means the new deadline for a decision on Detroit’s future is at 11:59 p.m. on April 5th.
But there’s another wrinkle to all of this. The Michigan Supreme Court is set to decide whether a consent agreement will even be allowed in the city of Detroit. Opponents of the process say the financial review team violated open meetings laws when it drafted the agreement. If the agreement is struck down, it’s unclear what will happen.

But it will probably happen fast. So stay tuned.

Ever since the federal government put General Motors through bankruptcy in 2009, investors, politicians and employees have wondered when the Treasury Department  would sell its GM stake.

Some experts been predicting a final sale would come before the 2012 general election, giving President Obama a political tool. But with GM shares trading below their price when GM went public in 2010, any sale would mean a loss for the government.

GM is once again the world's biggest carmaker. Photo by Chris via Flickr.

The reality, GM said Wednesday, is that nobody knows, not even GM. “The day will eventually come when the Treasury sells its GM stake,” company spokesman Selim Bingol said in a blog post. “When is anybody’s guess (we have no say in the matter).”

In return for assistance totaling about $50 billion, the U.S. government received about 61 percent of GM when it emerged from bankruptcy. The stake was significantly reduced when GM went public in fall, 2010.

The Treasury Department currently owns 32 percent, or 500,000 shares of GM stock. At the current price, the Treasury would lose $16 billion compared with where the stock was when GM went public, according to the Detroit News.

You can see a chart of what GM borrowed and received from the government, and what it’s repaid here.

In the past week, Chicago has been awash with members of the national political press corps, who waxed enthusiastically about its lakefront, deep dish pizza and friendliness.

Chicago Skyline/photo by Micki Maynard

Now, with the Illinois primary over (Mitt Romney won, by the way), all those journalists are on planes out of town.

And that might be the last time they think about Chicago until this fall’s general election – unless they’re back to cover the NATO summit in May.

The situation sums up Chicago’s challenge in being considered a world class city, writes Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune.

“We want the world to think well of us all,” he says in his column today. “A greater problem, perhaps, is that too many people don’t think of us, well, at all.”

Rosenthal talked to Rowan Bridge, a BBC Radio producer who has also lived in Washington, D.C. “I don’t think most people in the U.K.have any idea where Chicago is,” Bridge told Rosenthal.

“Most people in England think the United States consists of three cities — New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles — because they’re the ones that run the media, they’re the ones where the celebrities hang out, they’re the ones where the politicians are.”

This week, a delegation led by Gov. Pat Quinn and Amy Rule, the wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm, is in Brussels, drumming up excitement at NATO about all the things Chicago has to offer. They’re bound to mention parks and performances and Garrett’s Popcorn and its great chefs.

But all this sparked a discussion on the Changing Gears team: what makes a city a world class city? Here are a few criteria that we came up with.

International activity. To be world-class, a city has to be the international center of something — the place you have to go in your field, where all things stem from. Think of global financial capitals such as New York, London and Hong Kong, or political capitals such as Washington and Beijing.

Chicago is a player in many fields, from airlines to the legal world to food, but it does not seem to be the go-to place in any one area. (If you disagree, tell us in comments).

Culture. Los Angeles is clearly an global entertainment capital. So is London. Paris is the center of the art and fashion worlds. Milan matters when it comes to music, Rome and Shanghai for all those things put together.

Chicago has a theater scene, and a food scene, and a music scene, and plenty of movies are made there. And when Oprah did her show there, Chicago drew people from all strata of global society. All those things are elements of a global city, but again, Chicago doesn’t inarguably lead in any of them (although I know I’ll get an argument from some foodies).

Location. The Tribune’s Rosenthal hits on this in his column this morning and our Changing Gears team agrees. Chicago’s location between the two coasts simply hurts its world class candidacy.

When people come to the U.S. from overseas, they can work in visits to a variety of places just by sticking to the east and west coasts. Getting to Chicago takes effort. Visitors from anywhere outside the Midwest have to fly there, where it’s possible to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco or Las Vegas, or take a train from New York to Washington.

There’s one thing that Chicago has in spades when it comes to a world class city: pride of place. Almost everyone who’s from Chicago or lived there has warm feelings about it, especially NPR’s Scott Simon, a faithful cheerleader who even named one of his books, “Windy City.”

But when it comes to world class status, as Rosenthal puts it in his column this morning, “that’s not enough.”

What are your views about Chicago? Does it deserve to be considered a world class city? What does it need to do to get there?

Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, is following a well-worn path this week, making a trade mission to Europe.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder with Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne/photo via @onetoughnerd

Snyder’s tweeting photos of his trip via his @onetoughnerd account. Here’s one he sent home from Turin, Italy,  of himself with Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne (we’re pretty sure that’s not a hockey beard).

Snyder is also answering tweets from his followers about the trip, pointing out several times that the trade mission is paid for with private funds and isn’t costing the state’s taxpayers anything.

The governor’s goal is to promote the state to foreign investors as a good place to invest.Thus far, his itinerary has taken him to Turin, where he’s met with Fiat officials and company suppliers, and to Stuttgart, Germany, home base for Daimler. (Remember that Daimler used to own Chrysler, now under the wing of Fiat.)

Snyder is also taking some time out to be, well, nerdy. In a tweet this morning, he wrote, “Whoever is the next person to follow me on Twitter becomes my 8,297th follower, which is exciting because that’s a prime number.”

Illinoisans are casting their votes today in the state’s Republican primary. If polls are correct, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is heading for his first blow out victory in a Midwestern state. 

He had unexpectedly close contests with former Sen. Rick Santorum in Michigan and Ohio, which made the Illinois primary more important than most political watchers thought it would be.

Illinois has 54 delegates up for grabs, fewer than Ohio, but more than Michigan. Romney has a strong organization in the state, while Santorum failed to file full slates of delegate candidates in four Congressional districts. If he were to upset Romney, he could win no more than 44 delegates, the Chicago Tribune said. 

During Monday’s campaigning, Santorum and Romney exchanged barbs about the economy. Santorum, who made appearances in northwest Illinois, said he “didn’t care about the unemployment rate” and said the race was about smaller government, individual and social freedom.

At his own campaign stop in Peoria, Romney said, “I do care about the unemployment rate. It does bother me. I want to get people back to work.”

Tuesday’s primary also will see some contested Congressional races. Check our partner station WBEZ for full election results on the air and on line.

Our friends at PBS NewsHour had this analysis of the Illinois race. Here are anchor Judy Woodruff and political editor Christina Bellantoni.

Republican presidential candidates are making their final push in Illinois before tomorrow’s primary. They’ve flooded the airwaves with advertisements. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney alone has spent nearly $4 million in the state, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But Illinois firefighters have countered with their own anti-Romney ad, paid for by their union, the International Association of Firefighters.

The ad focuses in part on SAFER, a government program that provided $10.2 million in grants to Illinois communities last year to hire or retrain firefighters.

The IAFF endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and ran commercials in that campaign criticizing Republican nominee John McCain.

The firefighters’ effort may not make much difference. Romney appears to have a wide lead over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in Illinois.  Public Policy Polling says Romney is ahead by 45 percent to 30 percent for Santorum, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pulling in 12 percent and Texas congressman Ron Paul receiving support from 10 percent of likely voters.

Take a look at the ad and tell us what you think. And tomorrow, be sure to check our partner station WBEZ in Chicago for extensive coverage of the Illinois primary.

Next Tuesday is the illinois Republican primary. But today, Illinois is the center of the political universe (not that it doesn’t always think it is).

Two Republican presidential candidates and President Obama are all in the state today, looking for votes, and in the case of the president, money.

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum makes two stops in Arlington Heights today, with three downstate on Saturday.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hit a Rosemont restaurant Friday morning, with more stops planned ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Obama, meanwhile, spoke to a fundraising luncheon in Chicago before heading to Atlanta.

Not to be outdone, Newt Gingrich was in Illinois on Thursday. His performance in the state could determine whether the GOP race narrows to Romney and Santorum, or whether it remains a three-way contest.