Chicago Tribune columnist’s “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina” creates anger

31st Street Beach
Lake Michigan in Chicago

By John Ruberry

As the tenth anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina approaches we will come across many retrospectives of the storm that killed over 1,800 people and destroyed large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico coastal area–particularly in New Orleans.

But we won’t see too many like this one from the Chicago Tribune’s Kristen McQueary, whose Thursday column, originally titled, “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina,” was created an uproar along the Gulf Coast and beyond.

And yes, she does wish for one, although in quick follow-up column she backed off a bit–and the headline of her original piece was changed to the milder “Chicago, New Orleans, and rebirth.”

From that column:

But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.

That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

Residents overthrew a corrupt government. A new mayor slashed the city budget, forced unpaid furloughs, cut positions, detonated labor contracts. New Orleans’ City Hall got leaner and more efficient. Dilapidated buildings were torn down. Public housing got rebuilt. Governments were consolidated.

An underperforming public school system saw a complete makeover. A new schools chief, Paul Vallas, designed a school system with the flexibility of an entrepreneur. No restrictive mandates from the city or the state. No demands from teacher unions to abide. Instead, he created the nation’s first free-market education system.

While McQueary does mention the despair of 2005 NOLA, somehow those 1,800 deaths and the tens of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed were overlooked, as was the carnage Katrina brought to Florida and Mississippi.

The following day in her explanation of her editorial debacle, McQueary left out three words: I am sorry.

Worse, like a spoiled Hollywood celebrity, she blamed her audience for misinterpreting her words:

Many readers thought my premise — through my use of metaphor and hyperbole — was out of line. I certainly hear you. I am reading your tweets and emails. And I am horrified and sickened at how that column was read to mean [emphasis mine] I would be gunning for actual death and destruction.

Chicago’s problems are human-caused. One party rule has destroyed the city. Chicago hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1931. It hasn’t had a Republican alderman since 2011. Only one GOP member in the state general assembly is from Chicago. Too many residents vote Democratic for no other reason other than the candidate is a Democrat. For instance, in last fall’s gubernatorial when Republican newcomer Bruce Rauner ousted weak incumbent Pat Quinn–a Chicago Democrat–96 percent of the voters in the 34th Ward stuck with Quinn. Interestingly enough, Quinn’s running mate was the aforementioned Vallas. Louisiana Sign

Rauner and the General Assembly–which is controlled by two Chicago Democrats who created supermajorities with obscenely gerrymandered legislative maps–are locked in a six-week long budget stalemate. In a potential grand bargain that can end the deadlock, Rauner is proposing many reforms that will improve Illinois and Chicago–including removing the power of legislative reapportionment away from the General Assembly so the politicians are unable to create permanent majorities. Unlike his hapless predecessor, who only nibbled at pension reform–Rauner wants to confront Illinois’ unfunded pension debacle head on. But Illinois’ public-sector unions, who are major campaign contributors to Democratic pols–are balking. Pensions are a statewide problem, but the millstone is hitting Chicago the hardest. Moody’s rates Chicago’s bonds as junk.

America’s third largest city, Ms. McQueary, doesn’t need your Lake Michigan Katrina. It needs more new leaders. Human-caused problems can be fixed by humans, after all.

Yes, even you.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.