Romney supporters

Romney supporters watch silently as polling results are broadcast at the Chicago Republican Party Tuesday night. (Photo by Julian Zeng)

by Julian Zeng and Eva Green

An exuberant crowd of Gov. Mitt Romney supporters who gathered at the Chicago Republican Party at theWit Hotel became dispirited as incumbent president Barack Obama was reelected for a second term Tuesday night.

Party attendees in theWit Hotel third floor ballroom were optimistic about a Romney election early in the evening – Jason Wynn, a student and supporter, said, “I thought since the get-go that it’s going to be Romney all the way.”

Others were equally hopeful, their eyes glued to the many TV projection screens around the ballroom that broadcasted up-to-the-minute voting results from networks like ABC and Fox News.

“I’m here just because of what the sign says, because I believe in America,” said supporter Suanna Lynn, referring to the red, white and blue signs emblazoned with the Romney/Ryan ticket that lined the cream-colored walls.

Lynn said she feels corporations should have a lower tax rate and thinks this will incentivize job creation domestically.  Higher taxes will push businesses overseas, she said.

Yet as more polling returns were reported, the atmosphere became tenser. As both candidates were tied in electoral votes, each holding 153 just after 9 p.m., Romney’s supporters stood in angst.

Later, only a smattering of applause and cheers broke out when projections showed Romney winning states like North Carolina at about 10 p.m. Obama’s electoral vote count jumped to 244 following a win in California, and his projected victories in swing states like Florida and Ohio, as reported by a number of outlets, drew audible groans.

Romney supporter Marty Abezetian expressed his disappointment in Obama’s leadership, saying he has watched his taxes skyrocket and feels the country cannot afford another term under Obama’s leadership.

“It’s tough being a Republican living in Illinois where the states are dominated by Chicago votes,” said Abezetian. “I just feel for me, the government is too big, the government is too involved.”

32nd Ward Committeeman John Curry remained optimistic for a late surge in Ohio votes for Romney, citing a remaining “26 percent plus of the vote and a 50,000 vote margin out of millions cast” to be accounted for.

“Anything can happen the rest of the night, so I’m not throwing in the towel yet,” said Curry.

Two lone

Two lone party attendees await Gov. Mitt Romney’s concession speech. (Photo by Julian Zeng)

28th Ward Committeeman Shawn Walker agreed with his colleague, saying it was “a little bit too early to call it. Although we’re down, it’s not over yet.”

At 10:20 p.m., a number of outlets finally projected President Obama to win re-election with 275 electoral votes — five more than the requisite 270, as opposed to Romney’s 201 votes.

Romney supporters in the ballroom had mixed expressions of shock and dismay upon hearing the results, which were shortly followed by State Treasurer and Chairman of the Romney Illinois Campaign, Dan Rutherford, taking the stage to address those in attendance.

“It’s not over til it’s over, but I think we all know what’s going to happen here in the pivotal states,” said Rutherford in the closing speech of the night. “Thank you very much for your energy and your spirit and for helping keep a good two-party system alive in the state of Illinois, and particularly in the city of Chicago.”

All that remained at the Chicago Republican Party by 11 p.m. were empty tables and stray wine glasses, dissatisfied GOP supporters having cleared out into the rainy night. Staff members walked around and pulled the Romney posters off of the walls, a microcosmic representation of a campaign and its efforts come and gone.

Shortly before midnight central time, Romney took the stage at the Boston Convention Center to deliver his concession speech — by that time, all but two party attendees and hotel employees clearing the ballroom space remained.

By Julian Zeng and Jeremy Mikula

Young people “don’t care” anymore, if the cynics are to be believed. But new start-up group Chicago Votes seeks to prove this isn’t the case.

The philosophy of Chicago Votes, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Logan Square and Roseland/Woodlawn, is that the issue of young voter apathy is not a result of laziness or lack of care. It’s one of a lack of education.

Rebecca Reynolds of Chicago Votes

Rebecca Reynolds, director of programming at Chicago Votes, discusses issues facing young voters. (Photo by Julian Zeng)

Founded in February 2012, the group’s key activity is the registration and education of people of younger generations. Additionally, Chicago Votes seeks to engage young voters in events that are “democracy-driven,” yet still entertaining. One such event is “Trick or Vote,” which includes going door-to-door and leaving reminders of the Nov. 6 election, or debate watch parties called “Give a Sh*t Happy Hour.”

In this Q&A, Chicago Votes Director of Programming Rebecca Reynolds details the group’s origin, issues facing young voters, and the registration process and how it affects young people.

Q. Can you take us through the origins of Chicago Votes?

A: Chicago Votes came from an idea of a lot of different people who doing really similar work back in 2010-2011. After finding out [Mayor Richard M.] Daley wasn’t going to seek re-election, [people] realized that there was this first time in their lifetime that there was going to be a new mayor and realized that’s a huge and exciting decision for us to make. A bunch of organizations that were started at that time realized they were suddenly doing similar types of work. That group came to create an organization city-wide that does “get out the vote” efforts and voter education efforts among our peers to make our democracy more robust and participatory.

It also came out of the fact that we had realized that in our recent elections, and among registered voters, we were seeing some alarmingly low participation rates. So, for example, in the last primary election, only about 24 percent of registered voters voted, and that’s with registration at a low as well. This organization is working to address that very issue of participation.

Q. What steps are you taking to address low participation and low registration?

A: There are a lot of things. One, it’s an attitude about democracy, and I think folks are really deeply cynical, so we hold events around democracy and around participating that’s really democracy-positive – and non-partisan. We’re really committed to the idea that when we talk about elections we actually just simply emphasize the importance of participating, not necessarily who you’re going to vote for. We in fact believe that people will make the right decisions for themselves and we support that.

Q. You mentioned that people are cynical. How do you get young people to vote when a lot of people who graduate college recently are not able to get a job in their degree field. How do you combat that sort of voter apathy among the young?

A: You know, I don’t like to characterize it as voter apathy. I think a lot of the time, from what we understand about the electoral process, we make a calculated decision about whether we’re going to vote. Often, folks are thinking, ‘It’s Illinois, it’s a presidential election year, but it’s not going to matter that I vote,’ and they’re making what would be considered a rational decision about not participating.

But, you have to go out there and let them know there are actually really important things going on on your ballot, they’re just down your ballot, like the ballot initiatives [i.e., state pension referendum, Chicago electricity rates]. All really vital and critical things that directly impact our lives, but that information isn’t readily available because it’s not disseminated in a way that gets to their computer screens and in their hands.

Q. Have you gone out and tried to register people? You have things like ‘Trick or Vote,’ but it will be too late to register by that point.

A: What we decided this year was we were going to participate in the first-ever National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25. We organized for a couple weeks in advance to have tons of people across the city registering voters and we did that by partnering up with organizations like the Young Leaders Society and on different college campuses. We also organized just on the ground in the areas where folks are living.

Q. Do you target certain neighborhoods or demographics more than others? For example, neighborhoods like Pilsen and Back of the Yards have traditionally low registration and turnout?

A: No. Though we organize among our peers in a lot of ways, the people we’re reaching out to are diverse and members of all of our communities. Even our two locals that we’ve started – in Logan Square and in Roseland/Woodlawn – if you were to break them down socioeconomically but also racially and culturally, you would actually have a really diverse swatch of Chicago. It’s really important to us that we continue to maintain the importance of diversity, reaching across social and class lines.

Q. What kind of funding do you have?

A: We’re new, and so we’re just now developing our funding and resources. The idea here is that our democracy is only going to get better and more robust and more participatory if we [take donations]. It’s not going to happen on its own for sure and it’s certainly not going to happen because somebody was just writing something. We believe in hands-on democracy and we also believe that part of being hands-on is actually creating the organization that you want to help develop that. A lot of our volunteers, for example, are small monthly donors and it’s because we all believe in this concept and this idea, and we realize that we need to invest in our future and this is a vehicle for doing that.

Q. Can you give an example of voter education you’ve done?

A: One of the things we did at our last event was educate folks on the new aldermen in the wards, so we just had a remap and a lot of people don’t know who represents them anymore. And so at our kickoff event, we had a quick guide to the remap and showing folks exactly where they were. We then gave them a corresponding flier with information about their local electives.

The Cook County Clerk’s office is expecting an increase in suburban Cook County voting numbers for the general election in November, thanks to a reworked, more convenient mail-in voting system.

Noah Praetz, Cook County deputy director of elections, spoke about the new mail voting available to voters at a DePaul University graduate journalism class Monday.

Praetz, who has worked in Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office since 2000, is optimistic that the ease with which individuals can vote, coupled with new technology, will produce a “sea change” in ballot numbers recorded in 2008.

Noah Praetz photo

Noah Praetz, Deputy Director of Election for Cook County, talks about sample ballots at a DePaul University journalism class. (Photo by Mike Reilley)

Up until last year, residents of Illinois were required to submit a signed affidavit for absentee voting.Since then, the process has been made easier by only requiring an application (available in English, Spanish, Hindi and Chinese) to be filled out for mail voting. This simplification is in line with Illinois’ “no excuse” absentee voting policy, as applications for early voting provide an alternative for those who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.

Praetz also explained the re-dubbing of absentee balloting to mail-in voting. “All you have to do is go to our website. Download an application, fill it out, mail it in…then you’ll get a ballot. You fill that out, sign the affidavit on the back of the envelope, send it in and that’ll be counted.

“We expect and are ramping up for this to become a much greater portion of our voting,” said Praetz. “Four years ago there were only about 25,000 absentee ballots returned, and I think we could double, triple, even quadruple that number this year.”

Voting registration closes 28 days prior to the Nov. 6 election date, though voters can take advantage of the”Grace Period” Registration extension, which allows them extra time to update their registration information. If one waits to vote during this extended period from Oct. 10 to Nov. 3, however, they are eligible for grace period registration at each Clerk’s office location.

As mentioned earlier, technology has been a decisive factor in attempts to boost suburban Cook County voting numbers. In March, the Cook County Clerk’s office purchased a new mail sorting system that helps tally votes faster than before, improving the efficiency of counting votes, especially those collected via absentee ballots.

Prior to March, officials needed to hand-check each ballot received, comparing signatures to confirm the voter’s identity and sorting them into their respective piles. This long, inefficient process has now been replaced by a more cost-effective operation.

“The per-vote cost of administering a mail-in program is tremendously lower than the per-vote cost of precinct voting,” said Praetz. “We calculated that we process about one ballot every four minutes for precinct voting. We know that with our new technology we’re way below that, closer to 10 ballots per minute.

“A camera takes a picture and scans the signature and bar code…it’s very quick.”

The mail sorting system was purchased with federal funding for $216, 914 made available by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which is viewable in full here.

Voting in the city is under the jurisdiction of the City of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. Forthe general election in November, Praetz said, Orr’s office will train and employ nine to 10 thousand election judges, overseeing 10,000 pieces of voting equipment to tally votes from 1,673 precincts.

By Calvin Williamson and Julian Zeng

Audio Slideshow: Check out more at Chicago Storytelling

The Chicago playground. Where NBA superstars like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose first developed their games. Where some still chase the dream of basketball fame and recognition. But you don’t have to be a rising star to join a pick-up game on a court in the Windy City.

“Some people can’t play it, but they play hard though, all they gotta do is watch,” said Darnell Triplett, shortly after a 4-on-4 game on the court at Lincoln Park. “You watch and you learn.”

There is no shortage of courts in Chicago, and many people like Triplett travel from place to place in search of a game. Others, like Jarvis Flounoi, have one court they call their own.

“There’s other courts we can go to but we choose this one,” Flounoi said. “The beach is right there…it’s a good place, man.”

Darnell Triplett puts up a shot at Lincoln Park's playground courts (Photo by Julian Zeng)

Some prefer to play by themselves, like Gino Salva, who was listening to his iPod while shooting alone at Wrightwood Park, and had to stray from his home court to find an empty court.

“I live on Campbell, we got [a court] over there…but since it was so full I came over here,” Salva said.

Some courts are maintained better than others, however, and that can make finding a usable court tricky at times. Oz Park, for example, has four hoops, but none of them have a rim. According to Salva, who was shooting on one of the two hoops with a net on the rim out of Wrightwood Park’s eight total hoops, that is not an uncommon situation.

“They take the rims down on a lotta the schools, the grade schools, and you can’t play, so you gotta go around and find the ones that got ‘em,” he said.

Whether it’s alone or with friends, there are as many reasons that people play pick-up basketball as there are courts. Salva, 52, uses basketball as a way to exercise.

“This old guy’s gotta keep in shape,” he said.

Triplett listed multiple reasons why he likes to play. “[It] keeps you occupied, makes you do things, you know. Gets things off your mind, releases stress,” he said.

For others, like Roberto Guzman, it’s all about the environment. He cites “the lakefront view” at Lincoln Park as an important factor when he wants to play basketball, and he isn’t the only one. Triplett and his friends walked across the park to the beach when they finished playing.

Moses Santana uses playground basketball as a vehicle to educate the youth in the community. Santana, a graduate from Robert Morris University in Chicago who is currently pursuing his master’s degree, hails from Puerto Rico and played Junior Varsity and Varsity basketball as an undergraduate. Now he tries to help kids achieve their dreams by teaching the game and advising them to stay in school.

“I never know if I’m going to go pro or not but education is the one plus thing today in the economy,” he said. “I just come out and have fun and teach a couple fundamentals to the kids out here at the playground, motivate them to stay in school.”

Game of pick up basketball at Lincoln Park (Photo by Julian Zeng)

Basketball can also be used as a tool to stay healthy and out of trouble. Santana plays not only to motivate those around him, but himself as well. His dream is to represent his home by playing on Puerto Rico’s national team.

“Many have dreams but you gotta be motivated to keep them.  Stay away from violence, drugs and you know, just get motivated in what you do. I’m motivated to stay in school and play for my national team,” he said.

The rapid growth of social media has had a noticeable effect on pick-up basketball. Elias Martinez, a student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, uses Facebook to recruit players, especially during the school year.

Websites dedicated solely to helping players find a game have sprung up as well. Courts of the World, for example, maps out the locations of public courts around the world. Members of the site can add new courts, rate the courts they have used, and even upload videos of game action on that court’s page.

Courts of the World is also active in other forms of social media. Over 1,000 people “Like” their Facebook page, and members include people from across the globe, including Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania. The iPhone App Store even carries a Courts of the World mobile app.

But no matter how players find a game or where they play, whether they are a casual player or a rising superstar, they all have one thing in common. They play for the love of the game.

As Salva succinctly said, “It’s a good sport.”

In light of last week’s news the Sacramento Kings will remain in Sacramento for at least one more season, fans gathered downtown from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in Cesar Chavez Plaza to celebrate Here We Rally. More than 3,000 people arrived for the event, which was held in conjunction with the Kings and the NBA.
[View the complete story “Here We Rally” on Storify]

The DePaul club baseball team, in its inaugural season, has gotten off to a strong start. Since  dropping their opening game against Northern Illinois University, the Blue Demons have won their past four games, all coming against the Columbia College Renegades.

On Saturday, DePaul took advantage of Columbia’s shaky pitching and fielding woes on their way to a 14-1 victory over the Renegades, the first game of their doubleheader.

DePaul quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, with Columbia starting pitcher Luke Warnken struggling to maintain consistency and locate his pitches. From that point on, the Blue Demons dominated, scoring another 10 runs on 11 total hits.

Meanwhile, DePaul starting pitcher Nolan Meehan showed great command, allowing only one earned run over five innings, striking out six. Meehan also contributed with the bat, getting two hits and driving in three runs.

“We just take it one pitch at a time, I guess,” said Meehan after their first game against Columbia. “We’re pretty rag-tag as it is, and we don’t have much in coaching, we can basically do whatever we want.”

With a lack of a distinct coaching philosophy, DePaul simply adjusted to Columbia’s poor pitching by swinging away, driving in plenty of runs throughout the game, which was called in five innings because of mercy rule.

When asked about specific plays the team made during the game, Meehan couldn’t recall anything that really stood out to him.

“I can’t even remember, it was really a blur, scored a lot of runs.”

At the receiving end of this onslaught of hits was the Renegade infielders, who not only often made questionable decisions throwing out runners, but were continuously forced to play well-hit grounders. Mackinley Salk, Columbia outfielder and team president, was disappointed not only with their five errors, but with their effort in general.

“It was piss-poor on our part, we need to go out there and actually play baseball,” said Salk. Though Columbia struggled, they were severely underhanded from the start, as they normally have over double the amount of players they did on Saturday.

“Today’s really, really rough because we have nine guys here, usually we come to the field with about 20 guys, and we’ve got enough for any situation that happens,” said Salk. “When I had to take the starting pitcher out, I had to shuffle everything around.”

The team absences were mainly due to finals rapidly approaching for Columbia, with players devoting their time to schoolwork instead of baseball.

“We’ve got finals coming up and people have got film shoots, stuff like that, and since these kids aren’t on scholarship, you know, not scholarship athletes, school comes first, and we preach that,” said Salk.

Warnken, a freshman, still has plenty of time to gain experience and become acclimated to the college-level game. Saturday was simply a day for him to forget.

“I just couldn’t locate my pitches. When I did finally locate it, they were just making good hits,” said Warnken after the game. “Today’s a day where you just don’t have your stuff and tip your hat to the other team and say, ‘You got me,’ and you just gotta get over it.”

“All season long and last season we’ve been preaching the same thing, and that’s flushing,” said Salk. “Any mistake you make, it’s over, that’s it. It’s done. This is a game of amnesia, and you need to have it.”

For DePaul infielder Steve Friedberg, who scored twice and drove in three runs, Saturday’s win over Columbia was a testament to their hard work practicing over the past few weeks.

“Us as a team, hitting the ball more frequently has helped us,” said Freidberg. “Obviously spending more time practicing over the past two weeks has helped us out. Our president Kevin Crittenden has gotten on us.

“Recently we’ve seen a lot of live pitching, so I think live pitching helps, the in-game situations help.”

With only one game against Purdue remaining on their schedule (5/7), the Blue Demons will look to build upon their successes thus far and finish the season on a high note.

With sports reporting on the Internet and television converging to become a mass conglomeration of information, facts, statistics, etc., many organizations like Comcast SportsNet are at the forefront of this trend.

During our visit to the Comcast SportsNet – Chicago headquarters, we toured the facility and were spoken to by Chris Clark, senior editorial producer, and Chuck Garfien, reporter/anchor for SportsNet Central.  Both gave us their perspectives on online sports journalism, blogging, and convergence, topics which they both had extensive experience with.

Clark, formerly an editorial producer at MLB.com and one of the founders of the original whitesox.com, spoke about the old days of working online. The Internet, an entity continuously changing and evolving, forced Clark and other producers to “reinvent the wheel,” creating content and posting information with no predecessor to adopt ideas from.

Now that technology has become more advanced, Clark has grown to appreciate the immediacy with which information can be published, rather than suffer through the doldrums of slow dial-up connections. Clark did admit he missed some simpler aspects to creating content on older servers; for producers, “so much goes into building up a simple website, like packaging content, coding, etc.,” said Clark.

Despite these more complicated intricacies, Clark said it is “nice to have editorial control.”  Flexibility is also crucial to a producer’s success, as they can be asked to accomplish any number of tasks. This is especially important to someone working in this industry, as Clark warned us to not “think [you’ll] be settled in at a job in this business for more than a few years.”

Garfien addressed his responsibilities as a reporter for Comcast SportsNet. Not only does Garfien host White Sox Pre Game and Post Game Live, he also runs the Sox Drawer blog on CSN’s website. Garfien cited this versatility as an important characteristic of any successful reporter today, especially at CSN.

Garfien noted that one cannot succeed as a one-dimensional television personality to succeed in the business. Instead, they must also be strong writers while at the same time be connected on a variety of social media platforms, Twitter in particular. (Link to Garfien’s Twitter account)

Garfien also discussed CSN’s ownership, which is a possible controversial issue. The CSN Chicago branch is jointly owned by NBCUniversal, as well as the owners of the Big 4 team owners in Chicago (J. Joseph Ricketts family, Cubs; Jerry Reinsdorf, Bulls and White Sox; and Rocky Wirtz, Blackhawks).

Thus, as an organization affiliated with the teams they cover, CSN Chicago must weigh sometimes weigh the influences of reporting objectively and having a bias towards the Chicago teams. Garfien said it is key as a reporter to “not be a mouthpiece for the teams, and that he should choose his words carefully.

“We have to be fair to the people we cover, since we’re not a 100 percent independent TV organization,” said Garfien. Despite this, CSN Chicago has offered unparalleled access to sports teams and content that is among the best on the Web. The trip to the CSN Chicago offices was a great experience, and Clark and Garfien really opened my eyes to the ins and outs of this difficult but rewarding industry.