SNEED ON A VP SE­LEC­TION OF THE ’80S; FACTCHECK OF GOV’S AS­SER­TION ON JOB­LESS CLAIMS

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS | NATION/WORLD - This col­umn ap­peared in early edi­tions of Sun­day’s Sun-Times and was re­placed by a col­umn on the death of for­mer Gov. Jim Thompson. msneed@sun­times.com MICHAEL SNEED | @sneedlings

Iden­tity. Back in June 1984, a very secret source gave me my first na­tional “scoop.”

It was one of those ex­clu­sive sto­ries that lasted about as long as it took ice cream to melt.

It was short and sweet — but it was juicy.

Now that U.S. Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris has been cho­sen our nation’s third fe­male (as well as first Black and of South Asian de­scent) veep mate, it caused Sneed to pull a lit­tle fluid out of the old ink well, a sort of po­lit­i­cal palimpsest.

It was when U.S. Rep. Geral­dine Fer­raro was cho­sen the nation’s first ma­jor-party fe­male vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee dur­ing my stint as co-au­thor of the Chicago Tri­bune’s old INC. col­umn, a bro­ker­age house of top tips, my beat cov­er­ing pol­i­tics, crime and hard news.

I wasn’t cred­ited with a scoop du jour by­line back then, but on Wed­nes­day, June 11, 1984, I wrote via INC. that the nation’s first fe­male vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee had been se­lected. Back then, it ap­peared in the first edi­tion of the morn­ing pa­per the NEXT day, June 12. “It’s a girl!” I wrote.

What I didn’t print, but knew, was Fer­raro had def­i­nitely been cho­sen by Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial con­tender Wal­ter “Fritz” Mon­dale as his run­ning mate, ac­cord­ing to an im­pec­ca­ble source who didn’t want to be iden­ti­fied. The editor was in­formed be­fore my col­umn went to print. I pre­sume a sec­ond source was the is­sue.

The old boy net­work was in full force back then. We were women. We cried, af­ter all.

My source was lit­er­ally in the room where it hap­pened, an emis­sary sent by pri­vate jet to pick up the woman Mon­dale had just cho­sen as his run­ning mate.

On June 12, two Tri­bune male re­porters wrote Mon­dale was poised to make his­tory but still hedged some­what on Fer­raro be­ing a choice writ­ten in stone — but noted Fer­raro’s name was on a plane list en route to Min­nesota, where Mon­dale would make his VP choice official.

But by then the story was ev­ery­where.

But the story be­hind the story is di­vine cir­cum­stance un­fet­tered by plain old good luck, a re­porter’s USDA grade prime ten­der­loin steak.

And it did in­volve a plane. So here goes:

◆ Back shot: Al­though it was al­ready known in early June 1984 Mon­dale might make the his­tory books by se­lect­ing a woman as his ticket mate, the big ques­tion was who?

◆ Dou­ble shot: It had ba­si­cally whit­tled down to then-San Fran­cisco Mayor (and cur­rent U.S. se­na­tor from Cal­i­for­nia) Dianne Fe­in­stein, a brunette — and the flaxen-haired New Yorker, Fer­raro.

◆ Bank shot: Sneed’s source, still in the dark as to the winner, was dis­patched to San Fran­cisco from Chicago, to pick up Mon­dale’s choice. He im­me­di­ately phoned me upon land­ing.

Feel­ing com­pelled not to dis­close the name, the source only stated: “It’s the blonde.”

Mamma Mi­aaa! Mon­dale had cho­sen a blonde Ital­ian-Amer­i­can Catholic!

Back then, it was re­ported the very for­mi­da­ble Fer­raro’s place­ment along­side a very se­date Mon­dale was ex­pected to give his cam­paign “flair.”

Sound fa­mil­iar, Ka­mala? She is a for­mi­da­ble for­mer pros­e­cu­tor who could kick the tootin’ out of Putin.

On July 13, 1984, I quoted a source from the Mon­dale camp an­a­lyz­ing why Mon­dale saved the first dance for Fer­raro.

“He needed to do some­thing dra­matic,” said the source. “His great­est fault is that he ap­pears too pre­dictable — good ol’ safe Wal­ter … she’s his com­plete op­po­site — out­go­ing, lit­er­ally over­flow­ing with en­thu­si­asm. She adds siz­zle whereas he’s laid-back.” Sound fa­mil­iar, Ka­mala? Mon­dale once talked to Time mag­a­zine about what Fer­raro en­dured on the cam­paign trail from the old boy net­work.

“We went down to Mis­sis­sippi, and some old farmer said, ‘Young lady, do you make good blue­berry muffins?’

“And she said, ‘Yes. Do you?’ (Hmmm. I think Hil­lary Clin­ton was asked some­thing about bak­ing cook­ies.)

“That was the kind of thing that she was bump­ing up against,” Mon­dale stated. “She had to keep her cool. She had to be nice about it. And yet she was un­der­go­ing a revo­lu­tion.

Hey, the old boy net­work is still at work.

And a sec­ond source is not re­quired to re­port an Amer­i­can woman has yet to be elected pres­i­dent of our coun­try.

Over­whelmed by a surge in un­em­ploy­ment claims dur­ing the COVID-19 re­ces­sion, the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment Se­cu­rity has faced crit­i­cism for lengthy back­logs, a data breach and user fraud.

Dur­ing an Aug. 4 news con­fer­ence, Demo­cratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker de­fended his agency’s re­sponse given the tsunami of new claims flood­ing in.

“IDES, as you know, was hit with some­thing no one ex­pected: 10 to 20 times the claims, even dur­ing the worst re­ces­sion of my life­time. That was the 2008-2009 re­ces­sion,” Pritzker said. “No one ex­pected that we could see a re­ces­sion worse than that one.”

Na­tion­wide, ini­tial un­em­ploy­ment claims last week dipped below 1 mil­lion for the first time since March, but the fig­ures re­main stag­ger­ingly high. Even so, we won­dered if the num­ber of claims filed in the early weeks of the pan­demic in Illi­nois re­ally reached the lev­els Pritzker sug­gested.

So we reached out to the gov­er­nor’s of­fice to ask for the data.

Spokes­woman Jor­dan Abu­dayyeh sent us IDES fig­ures for ini­tial un­em­ploy­ment claims for each week of the cur­rent re­ces­sion, which of­fi­cially be­gan in Fe­bru­ary. She high­lighted two sep­a­rate weeks when the num­ber of claims reached a peak, and sent data for the cor­re­spond­ing weeks of the Great Re­ces­sion which started in De­cem­ber 2007.

In Week 9 of the cur­rent re­ces­sion — the week end­ing April 4, 2020 — IDES re­ceived more than 202,000 new un­em­ploy­ment claims — 12.5 times more than the roughly 16,000 the agency re­ceived for Week 9 of the 2008 re­ces­sion.

And in Week 15 of the cur­rent re­ces­sion — the week end­ing May 16, 2020 — ini­tial claims spiked again as job­less work­ers in the gig econ­omy and oth­ers who were pre­vi­ously in­el­i­gi­ble for un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­gan to ap­ply un­der the new fed­eral Pan­demic Un­em­ploy­ment As­sis­tance pro­gram. That week, IDES re­ceived a lit­tle over 10 times the num­ber of new claims it got in Week 15 of the pre­vi­ous re­ces­sion.

Both peak weeks fall within the range Pritzker cited even though they don’t reach as high as 20 times more, or even 15 times more. Tal­lies for other weeks this year out­paced the com­pa­ra­ble pe­riod of the Great Re­ces­sion but by less than 10-fold.

Ex­perts told us it was fair for Pritzker to high­light those early spikes given the unique chal­lenges state un­em­ploy­ment sys­tems faced in pro­cess­ing claims be­cause of the sud­den health cri­sis sweep­ing the nation.

“It was all of a sud­den, just ev­ery­body at once,” said El­iza Forsythe, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­banaCham­paign’s School of La­bor & Em­ploy­ment Re­la­tions. “Be­cause it was so fast, these claims were many times over what we usu­ally see, even in other re­ces­sions.”

Justin Wolfers, an eco­nomics pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, said al­though there are mul­ti­ple ways to com­pare this re­ces­sion, “they all point to a surge in ini­tial un­em­ploy­ment claims of his­toric pro­por­tions.”

Pritzker’s spokes­woman also told us the gov­er­nor’s claim re­ferred to the dif­fer­ence be­tween the claims IDES is see­ing this year and the num­bers it nor­mally re­ceives. Pritzker did not make this clear in his orig­i­nal re­marks.

“The gov­er­nor is say­ing IDES is see­ing 10-20x the claims they nor­mally do as well as EVEN more than the worst re­ces­sion,” Abu­dayyeh wrote in an email.

IDES data backs that up. New claims this year out­paced those re­ceived in Illi­nois last year by 10 or more times in 10 of the last 20 weeks. In three of those weeks, cases were be­tween 20 and 23 times greater than the same pe­riod in 2019.

Our rul­ing

Pritzker said when COVID-19 struck, IDES “was hit with some­thing no one ex­pected: 10 to 20 times the claims, even dur­ing the worst re­ces­sion of my life­time.”

His of­fice pointed to two weeks when state data show new un­em­ploy­ment claims surged by as much as 12 times the num­ber of ini­tial claims re­ceived in the same weeks dur­ing the 2008 re­ces­sion. Those two weeks of peak claims fall within the range Pritzker cited, if not hit­ting 20.

His spokes­woman also told us the gov­er­nor was re­fer­ring to the dif­fer­ence be­tween the claims IDES is see­ing this year and the num­bers it nor­mally re­ceives, which is sup­ported by the data too. How­ever, that more ac­cu­rate com­par­i­son wasn’t made clear in his re­marks.

We rate his claim Mostly True. The Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion runs Poli­tiFact Illi­nois, the lo­cal arm of the na­tion­ally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning fact-check­ing en­ter­prise that rates the truth­ful­ness of state­ments made by gov­ern­men­tal lead­ers and politi­cians. BGA’s fact-check­ing ser­vice has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and on­line. You can find all of the Poli­tiFact Illi­nois sto­ries we’ve re­ported to­gether at https://chicago. sun­times.com/sec­tion/poli­tifact/.

U.S. Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, D-Calif., is the third woman to be a ma­jor-party vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. The first was U.S. Rep. Geral­dine Fer­raro, D-N.Y., in 1984.

AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN-TIMES FILE

Gov. J.B. Pritzker an­swers ques­tions dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in the Heart of Chicago neigh­bor­hood in July.

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