Chicago’s lakefront

By John Ruberry

“Decent people shouldn’t live here. They’d be happier someplace else.”
Jack Napier/The Joker in Batman.

Often, I’m asked, “Why is Chicago so corrupt?” The short answer? It’s always been that way.

Now let me expand a bit.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice released a report that excoriated the Chicago Police Department for use of excessive force, slipshod training, and soft discipline within its ranks. The report was produced because of the shooting in 2014–with sixteen bullets–of an unarmed teen black Laquan McDonald by a white Chicago cop.

But the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass noted a significant omission in that report: Chicago’s corruption culture.

It wasn’t the Chicago cops who shaped the police culture. The political corruption and cynicism of politicians over decades in a one-party Democratic machine town shaped the culture.

Kass adds that it was City Hall that sat on the damning police video of McDonald getting shot. It was released over a year later–seven months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was releected. Kass, without mentioning his name, reminded readers that longtime CPD chief of detectives, William Hanhardt, was placed in that position by his political friends. Hanhardt, a mob cop, ran a jewelry theft ring while he was chasing select other bad guys.

But why is Chicago so corrupt?

Chicago, like other Midwestern cities, was settled first by New Englanders and upstate New Yorkers, white Anglo-Saxon protestants mainly. But Irish people fleeing the Potato Famine and seeking work on such projects as the Illinois & Michigan Canal, along with Germans, were the first wave of immigrants to Chicago. My great-great grandfather, another John Ruberry, was part of this wave. But the Irish already knew English and the arguably more numerous Germans initially did not. Which meant that the Irish were able to qualify for government jobs. Then some of them made the logical next step–run for political office.

The eighteenth-century Irish were unwilling subjects of the British Empire–they viewed government as an alien force and many didn’t see anything wrong with stealing from that government. Old habits are hard to break–and many Irish-Americans saw public service as an opportunity to stuff their pockets with bribes and kickbacks–and to place their friends and relatives in other government positions. Or to offer other friends and relatives government contracts, who might reward their patrons with “gifts.”

So Chicago’s culture of corruption was born.

Other immigrants followed–many with similar backgrounds. Poles didn’t have their own nation for the entire 18th century, the majority of Chicago’s Italian immigrants came from southern Italy, and there was no love between them and the Italian royal house, which emerged from the northern half of the peninsula. The Czechs and the Croatians were part of Austria-Hungary.

Abandoned South Side home

Even newcomers to Chicago who were Americans fit the bill.

Until the mid-1960s blacks who came to Chicago as part of the Great Migration were subject to Jim Crow laws and could not vote. Clearly local government was not their government. Puerto Rican corruption is even worse than that of Chicago.

You can make the same argument about Mexico, the latest source of mass-immigration to Chicago.

Another Chicago newspaper columnist, the legendary Mike Royko, often quipped that Chicago’s official slogan should be “Where’s mine?”

Roughly once every 18 months a Chicago alderman is sentenced to prison. One of Chicago’s dirtiest secrets is the coziness between politicians and street gangs.

My point is not to demonize any group but to explain how Chicago got to the unhappy place where it is. For instance, my father, another John Ruberry–he went by Jack–once told my mother, “I’d like to work in politics.” She replied, “That will never work out–you are too honest.” My dad was 100-percent Irish-American. And yes, my mother was right–and my father never ran for public office. This decent man moved his family out of Chicago in 1968.

Meanwhile, Chicago, and yes, the rest of Illinois is a cesspool of cronyism and corruption.

Oh, you WASPs, particularly Republican ones reading this post–I’m coming for you.

Much is made of Chicago not having a Republican mayor since 1931. But that mayor was William Hale Thompson, a Boston-born Protestant who was probably Chicago’s most corrupt mayor. Thompson was a protector and sponsor of Al Capone. Thompson, a crook, was able to reap dishonest benefits from a crooked bureaucracy that was already in place. After his death two safe deposit boxes containing nearly $2 million were discovered. Although Thompson’s successor, Czech immigrant Anton Cermak, founded the modern Chicago Democratic machine, he was a better mayor than Thompson.

I began with a quote from one Batman movie and I’ll end this post with a quote from another, this time from Batman Begins.

The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years. We sacked Rome, loaded trade ships with plague rats, burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Chicago is clearly in decline. Payoffs to public-sector union members, pensions that weren’t properly funded, gave Chicagoans–including of course the decent ones–their largest property tax hike ever two years ago, followed by more tax increases last year. No serious person believes there won’t be more soon. Last year more Chicagoans were murdered than those killed in New York City and Los Angeles–combined.

Chicago is at its lowest population in one hundred years, coincidentally, that was when Chicago was still a boom town and William Hale Thompson was mayor.

While there is no League of Shadows, Chicago is long overdue for a check against human corruption.

Where is Chicago’s Bruce Wayne?

Or its Bruce Waynes?

And no, I’m not calling for bubonic plague in Chicago. The city is emptying out just fine on its own.

John Ruberry, a decent man who moved his family out of Chicago in 1999, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. 

Chicago’s Grant Park, where Obama gave his victory speech

By John Ruberry

On the Sunday after the 9/11 attacks, Jeremiah Wright, then Obama’s pastor, bellowed, “God d–n America” and “America’s chickens are coming home to roost” from the pulpit of his Chicago church.

Two nights from now President Barack Obama will give his farewell address in Chicago, his adopted hometown. The Hawaii-born 44th president moved to Chicago a year after graduating from college where he worked, with at best mixed success, as a community organizer on the Far South Side. It’s an area still beset by violence and poverty with no hope of a turnaround thirty years after Obama left that post so he could attend Harvard law school.

Ayers and Dohrn Chicago home

It was in 1996 Chicago where Obama launched his political career. One of his first campaign stops–perhaps his first–was at the home of his friends, unrepentant Weather Underground terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Eight years later another Chicagoan, state Senate President Emil Jones Jr, put Obama’s name on some key bills that bolstered his liberal credentials. Obama scored a surprise win in the Democratic US Senate primary, and after the Republican nominee imploded, he easily won in the general election.

You know the rest of the story.

However, Obama was not a slam-dunk in the 2008 presidential election against John McCain–what we now call the Great Recession sealed the deal–and America elected its first black president.

Chicago is still recovering from the ’08 economic collapse. Of the nation’s 35-largest cities, Chicago has the largest percentage of underwater home mortgages.Two years ago Chicago enacted its largest property tax hike in history, the impetus for it was to pay for underfunded municipal pension funds. What does this have to do with Obama? Chicago hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1931, Obama is the most hyper-partisan president in memory. Along the White House ride for Obama was Valerie Jarrett, his senior advisor and “Berlin Wall,” the former slumlord was a deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. It’s Daley, not his successor, former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who bears the responsibility for the Chicago pension debacle. But Chicago’s generous municipal pensions are political payback for public-sector unions, who’ve been an arm of the Democratic Party in all but name for decades.

Obama has always been very cozy government labor unions. 

Two years ago–under Emanuel’s watch–Moody’s downgraded Chicago’s bonds, and those of Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District to junk. Other rating services haven’t followed suit yet, but they absolutely don’t view Chicago favorably.

Chicago’s population is at it lowest level in 100 years.

Chicagoans pay the nation’s highest sales tax rate.

Chickens.

Last year at least 762 people were murdered in Chicago–an appalling 57 percent increase over the year before. Chicago suffered more killings than New York City and Los Angeles–combined. One of the reasons cited for the soaring murder rate was Rahm Emanuel’s inept handling of the shooting of unarmed black teen Laquan McDonald–with sixteen bullets–by a white cop, all of which has compelled Chicago Police officers to use less aggressive law enforcement tactics. Chicago is a hotbed for Black Lives Matter activists. The outgoing president has been supportive of this radical group, which deems racist the statement All Lives Matter.

Near where the Facebook attack occurred

That leads to last week’s racist atrocity in Chicago, the torturing of a white special needs man–thirty minutes of which was streamed live on Facebook–by four blacks in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on the West Side. The victim was bound, gagged, beaten, slashed, forced to drink toilet water, and coerced to say “F–k Donald Trump” and “F–k white people.”

Two months earlier in another West Side neighborhood a white man was pulled from his car and brutally beaten by four blacks. That attack was captured on video, the assailants screamed, “You voted Trump” and “Beat his a–.” While the victim was indeed a Trump voter–yes, there are a few in Illinois besides me–he told authorities that there was no way the thugs could have known that. There was no Trump bumper sticker on his car–he was white and that was enough provocation for these creeps.

Obama’s chickens–and those of Chicago Democrats–have come home to roost.

Our collectivist president has practiced identity politics for his entire adult life. which for the most part means race politics. Us versus them. And as a collectivist Obama has appointed himself as the savior to put the pieces back together.

Chicago’s Northwest Side

But breaking things is much easier than putting them back together.

Some final thoughts.

As a public service I am recommending that if you are planning to attend Chicago’s McCormick Place address, please use public transportation. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit 45 of our 50 states. With the exception of Detroit, the worst-maintained streets and roads I’ve encountered are in Chicago. And while you’re driving around potholes and crevices, please beware of Chicago’s ubiquitous red light and speeding cameras. An astounding 1.9 million traffic camera tickets were issued between 2010 and 2015. Chicago has 2.7 million or so residents. Most of those tickets were written while Emanuel was mayor.

The former administrator of Chicago’s traffic camera program is serving a ten-year prison sentence for accepting bribes.

Someone needs to come up with a misery index for big cities like Chicago, which should include such items as corruption, low high school graduation rates, unfunded pension obligations, red light cameras, crumbling infrastructure, population loss, taxes, and yes of course, crime.

John “Lee” Ruberry

Perhaps Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s amiable pal who is an economics professor at the University of Chicago, can absolve himself of leftism and get to work on this much-needed project.

Thank God I left Chicago for the suburbs nearly two decades ago.

And Obama, at least for now, won’t live in Chicago after he moves out of White House next week. He’ll probably only return to visit his presidential library.

John Ruberry is a fifth-generation Chicago area resident who writes the Marathon Pundit blog. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Board had no input in composing this blog entry.

South Loop Downtown
Chicago’s downtown

By John Ruberry

Two unwelcome pieces of bad news punched Chicago in the face last week. A state pension reform law for two municipal pension plans was unanimously ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Also last week came news that the Chicago metropolitan area saw the biggest population drop of the nation’s metro regions. Chicago proper gained a miserly 82 new residents, just enough to fill two CTA buses.

Last year, as part of a rescue for two other city worker pension plans, Mayor Rahm Emanuel  signed into law the largest property tax hike in city history.

Chicago’s bonds are rated as junk, as are those of the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Schools.

On New Year’s Day Cook County, where Chicago is, raised its portion of the local sales tax to pay for–you guessed it–underfunded county worker pensions.

Illinois’ worker pension funds are the worst funded of the 50 states.

CTA bus
Half of Chicago’s new 2015 residents are on this bus!

This debacle, to use former Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s ham-headed attempt to rename terrorist attacks, is a man-caused disaster, the root of which is public-sector unions contributing millions to politicians, mostly Democrats, who lavished these pension benefits on government employees, even though they knew that they were unaffordable.

Chicago has many other problems. Los Angeles and New York have more people but Chicago topped them in murders last year. Many Chicagoans, because of the Laquan McDonald fatal shooting by a Chicago police officer, are extremely distrustful of law enforcement.

McDonald was failed by Chicago’s schools and the state’s social services agencies.

On Friday members of the Chicago Teachers Union will stage an illegal one-day walk out. They want a big pay raise in their next contract. Chicago Public Schools’ financial situation is so dire that Illinois’ reform governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, favors changing state law so CPS can declare bankruptcy. CPS’ pension fund is a sinkhole too.

Why stop with CPS when it comes to bankruptcy?

Abandoned West Side apartments
Abandoned West Side apartments

As for those schools, in 2012 about 80 percent of CPS 8th graders weren’t proficient at grade level in math and reading, despite most schools having “academy” or some other fancy moniker in their names.

Outside of a beautiful downtown and a picturesque lakefront, clearly there aren’t too many reasons for people to choose to live in Chicago–or stay there. Most of the people moving in are foreigners–naive people who haven’t heard the bad news yet about the city. If you really enjoy the lakefront and the Loop, well, you can always vacation there. Just don’t venture too far away from the city’s center.

Chicago only has bad options to work its way out of its mess. Another historically large property tax is one possibility. One 2015 mayoral candidate suggested a commuter tax as a revenue source. Ask Detroit how its commuter tax is working out. The hardened leftist who runs the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, suggests a municipal income tax as a city cure.

Detroit has one of those too.

Better options are amending the Illinois constitution to make pension reform easier or, as I touched on earlier, changing state law so governmental bodies can declare bankruptcy.

John "Lee" Ruberry
John “Lee” Ruberry

Chicago needs to move quickly or it risks becoming America’s next Detroit.

Or perhaps it’s already too late.

Related post:

I walked its streets–the tragedy of Detroit.

John Ruberry, a lifelong Chicago area resident, blogs regularly at Marathon Pundit