Of America’s largest cities only Chicago has a declining population. So far this year–as it was for all 2016–more people were murdered in Chicago than in New York City and Los Angeles.
On the surface it seems that Chicago has the best government that money can buy. The Watchdogs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that one-third of municipal workers of America’s third-largest city banked over $100,000 last year. Meanwhile, just 11 percent of Cook County workers–Chicago is the county seat–earn more than $100K. The numbers are similar for state of Illinois employees.
Thirty-six Chicago payrollers collected more than Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year.
Overtime run amok partially explains the problem. Generous campaign contributions from public-sector unions to politicians explains much more of it.
The median income for Chicagoans according to the US Census Bureau in 2015–the most recent year that is available–$63,153.
In Chicago it’s great to be part of the ruling class. But Chicago’s roads are crumbling, barely one out of four of its students in its government schools read at grade level, its bond rating is the lowest among major cities, and businesses lack confidence in Chicago and Illinois as a whole. If you are part of Chicago’s ruling class you might view high taxes as a downpayment on your next paycheck or your retirement, but Chicagoans endure the nation’s highest sales tax rate and they were slugged with the highest property tax increase in the city’s history to fund public-worker pensions.
Yet Chicago’s public pensions are the worst-funded among America’s biggest cities--at a rate of just 25 percent of its obligations. But the cruel joke may be on these well-compensated public-servants. Despite the strong pension protection clause in the Illinois constitution, a pension “haircut” seems unavoidable for retirees. Michigan has similar wording it its constitution, yet Detroit municipal retirees saw their pension checks cut after the Motor City declared bankruptcy.
Chicago’s decline and fall continues. But hey, at least some people for now are making a good buck off of the rotting corpse. Let the good times roll.
As this post goes live, the 48th Chicago Pride Parade is taking place on the city’s North Side. The event is still commonly called the Gay Parade, “Pride” is of course a much more generic term. On the Yahoo home page today, next to the rainbow colors, is this message, “Be proud of who you are.”
In Chicago there are many people who should be ashamed of who they are and what they’ve done. Which got me thinking. America’s third largest city–for now–really needs a Shame Parade, something along the lines what Queen Cersei suffered, in the buff, in Game of Thrones two years ago at the hands of the Sparrows sect.
But please, shameful ones, keep your clothes on.
Participation is limited only to brigands who live in Chicago.
Attendees are encouraged to chant “Shame…shame….shame.”
Chicagoans, now let me present to you the 2017 Shame Parade participants!
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley: The son of Mayor Richard J. Daley, the younger Daley inherited his father’s talent in creating a powerful political organization. But while the first “Hizzoner” was a whiz at public finance, Number 2 was clueless about about it–clearly Richie is bad at math. Chicago has the worst-funded municipal worker pension plans in the nation. The city prospered in the 1990s, it’s easy to see why. The pension obligations were shorted to create an illusion of prosperity, a Potemkin Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel: The Tiny Dancer inherited a mess from Daley, and he’s responding as any liberal Democrat would to any problem–raise taxes. But Chicagoans are responding with their feet–Chicago is the only major city losing population. Most of the West Side and much of the South Side is a killing zone. More people are murdered in Chicago than New York City and Los Angeles–combined.
The leaders of every street gang: “Chicago is the gang capital of the United States,” CBS News reported a few years ago. There are roughly 600 gangs in Chicago and about 70,000 members in these criminal enterprises.
Cook County Assessor and Cook County Democratic Party Boss Joseph Berrios: The assessor’s office has long been a campaign fund cash cow for the Chicago Machine. But in a fantastic series from the Chicago Tribune, Berrios’ reign has been shown to favor the wealthy residents of Cook County while cheating poor ones. Boss Berrios has also been accused of rampant nepotism. Do you mean the Democrats aren’t for “the little guy?”
Edward Vrdolyak: A onetime boss of the Cook County Democratic Party, “Fast Eddie” is one of the many former members of the Chicago City Council who is a convicted felon. Roughly once every 18 months a member or former member of that shameful legislative body takes up residence in a federal prison. Vrdolyak became a Republican in the late 1980s. Seven years ago he served a ten-month prison sentence for participating in a kickback scheme with cronies of disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich. Last fall Vrdolyak was indicted again on tax evasion charges.
Karen Lewis: The longtime president of the Chicago Teachers Union, a hardened leftist, was a pretty good high school chemistry teacher, a former co-worker who was one of her pupils told me once. But she’s not that good at math. Or perhaps she is? For years members of her union have had taxpayers, in the name of Chicago Public Schools, pay what is supposed to be the teachers’ contribution into their still woefully undercapitalized pension funds.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett: While the aforementioned Chicago Public Schools was headed into the financial sewer, its CEO, “BBB,” participated in a kickback scam. Byrd-Bennett will report to prison later this year.
Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn: Barack Obama began his political career in the living room of these unrepentant Weather Underground terrorists. After their terror career ended they moved on to academia, where they learned that it’s easier to destroy America by indoctrinating youngsters with leftism than by bombing buildings.
Rod Blagojevich: Can President Donald Trump arrange a furlough for the onetime “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant? While Colorado is the jailbird’s home for now, the rest of his family still lives in Chicago. The hair-brained former governor inherited a fiscal mess, as did Rahm Emanuel, but he made it worse, particularly with his 2005 pension payment “holiday.”
Former Gov. Jim Thompson: Look! Another Republican! In 1989 Thompson signed into law the compounded interest pension raises which of course were never properly funded. An astute pol, yes, but like the younger Mayor Daley and perhaps Karen Lewis, math is not the strong suit of “Big Jim.”
Chicago’s Power Corruption Couple, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson and former US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr: They’re undergoing a nasty divorce right now, but in happier times they looted Junior’s campaign fund. Both are ex-cons. The couple that steals together doesn’t necessarily stay together.
Lifetime Lack-of-Achievement Award, Jesse Jackson Sr: Decades of race-based shakedowns enriched himself and his family. Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH organization placed his son and daughter-in-law into positions of power. But what tangible achievements can he show other Chicagoans?
Who will the grand marshal of Chicago’s Shame Parade?
State House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Boss: Michael Madigan: Since becoming speaker in 1983, Madigan has nominally served with–or over?–six governors. But you can find the 13th Ward Democratic committeeman’s fingerprints on every piece of pension and fiscal legislation enacted into law since then. Illinois’ public pension plans are among the worst-funded among the 50 states. Illinois’ bond ratings are just one step above junk–the lowest ever for a state. And if a budget isn’t passed by the end of this week S&P and Moody’s warns that junk status will be declared.
Oh, why isn’t Barack Obama in the Shame Parade? Chicago is so bad even Obama has bailed on it. The former president lives in Washington now. Obama served in the Illinois Senate, from 1997-2004, while the state’s pension disaster festered. Obama is so smart, right? But why were there no warnings from him about Illinois pensions?
“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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even though the protest took place just three days ago, the blocking of the Dan Ryan Expressway near Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood by Black Lives Matter radicals is already largely forgotten. The rally was organized after the deaths of two black men last week by two police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. The Chicago protest was of course overshadowed by the shooting deaths of five Dallas cops during a Black Lives Matter protest in the Texas city that night–seven other police officers were wounded. The assassin, Micah Xavier Johnson, sympathized with black nationalist groups and can fairly be called a racist.
The Chicago expressway blocking occurred three days after another bloody holiday weekend in America’s third-largest city. Four people were murdered in Chicago and an astounding 62 others were wounded during the 4th of July weekend. The thugs didn’t lock up their guns on July 5. In fact, on the day before the expressway protest a four-year-old Englewood boy was shot several times a mile away from that rally.
I wasn’t there but I will wager a sizable sum of cash that none of the leftists decried the shooting of that boy. The people who live in the home where the 4-year-old lives believe their home is being targeted–they claim they don’t know by whom. In May a 53-year-old woman who lives in that house was wounded in a shooting there.
One house–two shootings–three months. Does anyone seriously believe that the Chicago Police is targeting this home?
This year there has been just one shooting death by Chicago Police of a criminal suspect, 16-year-old Pierre Loury, a known gang member. Cops say Loury, who posted a picture of himself holding a gun on his Facebook page, pointed a weapon at them.
Loury was a West Sider, and as bad as Englewood is, most of Chicago’s West Side is worse. The West Side, unless you are Mayor Rahm Emanuel or part of the CPD brass, is well known among Chicagoans for its open-air drug markets. The corner of Madison and Pulaski is a popular spot to purchase narcotics. Yes, Black Lives Matter leftists protested the Loury death–and they briefly blocked the Eisenhower expressway on the West Side, but they didn’t march on Madison and Pulaski. Turf wars over drugs often turn fatal, there is nothing new about that.
Only some black lives matter to Black Lives Matter. Crime doesn’t seem to matter at all to them.
But as with all leftist causes, protesting police shootings is only a means to their end. “The issue is never the issue,” they say, “the issue is always the revolution.”
Meanwhile black people keep shooting each other in Chicago and other big cities in America. Only the police are there to provide protection.
Chicago is five days removed from its bloodiest May in twenty-one years. Two decades Chicago had more residents, so on a per capita basis May 2016 is even worse than it seems. The Tuesday tally for Memorial Day weekend carnage was six dead and 69 wounded. You might as well add a seventh death to the the total; yesterday a man who chased a woman onto a busy street last Sunday where she was killed by car as she escaped his alleged robbery attempt was charged with murder.
What is Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, doing about the mayhem?
Not a whole lot.
Which is surprising because this is the man who shortly before he became Barack Obama’s first White House chief-of-staff said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Rahm–you have your crisis. Even though it has a much smaller population, Chicago, which a rapper, since shot, coined the “Chiraq” nickname for, suffers from more murders year after year than New York and Los Angeles.
Why is that? Well, Emanuel and loudmouths such as onetime Obama faith advisor Father Michael Pfleger blame guns. But Chicago isn’t a setting for a Stephen King novel, the firearms don’t fire themselves.
The real problem is street gangs. With the possible exception of Los Angeles, Chiraq has more gang members than any city in the country, 68,000 of them in 2012. That’s more than the population of a Chicago ward.
If Rahm really believes that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, he can declare war on gangs. Sure, the arrest of 100 gangbangers last month was a good start, but that turned out to be a very bittersweet minor victory because one hour after the press conference at Chicago Police headquarters announcing the busts, a city of Chicago employee was shot to death one block away, the intended target was a gang member who obviously wasn’t one of the 100.
As with most Chicago murders–this killing remains unsolved.
A war on gangs will be a tough one, Rahm will learn if he takes my advice and wages one. Gang members have their wiggled their tentacles throughout Chicago society and government, even within the City Council.
And I have to suspect that there are some John Connolly types, not the onetime Texas governor, but gangster Whitey Bulger’s mole in the FBI, within the Chicago Police Department.
Last month an alleged hitman for the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples gang, who was also a suburban Atlanta cop, was one of 48 gangbangers charged in a sweeping federal indictment.
Rahm, you now have the “opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Yet my guess is that Emanuel will make only half-hearted attempts to fight Chicago violence. Because he’s a liberal he fears being attacked from the left–from groups as Black Lives Matters, for instance. And progressives, because they are obsessed with the rights of thugs, aren’t predispositioned to be effective crime fighters.
Meanwhile Chicagoans are slaughtering each other while Rahm is checking his latest poll numbers.
Special thanks go out to the Facebook commentor who reminded me of Emanuel’s famous quote.
Deadly shootings in Chicago are up 20 percent this year over 2015. Last year Rahm Emanuel and the exclusively-Democratic City Council stuck it to Chicagoans by enacting the city’s biggest property tax in history to pay for municipal worker pensions–with probably more hikes to come. Chicago’s population decline continues, the onetime Second City is now third, with Houston within reach to pass it.
How does Rahm Emanuel respond?
With Roman style bread and circuses.
Two weeks ago the NFL draft was held in downtown Chicago for the second straight year–accompanied by an elaborate Draft Town festival.
And like the bounty hunters who doggedly pursued Han Solo in Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, Rahm desperately wants to plop the proposed George Lucas museum on Chicago’s Lakefront despite opposition from preservation groups and a federal judge. Chicago was Lucas’ second choice for his temple, plans for a San Francisco museum fell through two years ago. The filmmaker’s ties to Chicago are at best tenuous. He married his second wife, a Chicago native, on the lakefront a few miles south of the proposed museum site. Oh, Harrison Ford, who played Solo, was born in Chicago and he grew up in suburban Morton Grove, where your humble blogger lives.
Meanwhile the carnage in Chicago continues. Last night a man eating dinner was shot to death while eating dinner when someone fired into his Southwest Side home. Early this morning a passenger in a car was murdered when he was shot on Lake Shore Drive. Another man was shot on the same road, albeit not fatally, two days earlier.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Chicago needs to move quickly or it risks becoming America’s next Detroit.
Yes, three years is a long time in politics but even before the uproar over the Laquan McDonald shooting–the troubled black teen was shot 16 times by a white Chicago police officer in 2014–Mayor Rahm Emanuel already faced tough reelection prospects in 2019. President Obama’s former chief of staff was forced into a runoff in last year’s election with leftist Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Emanuel won, but it was not an overwhelming victory.
It will likely be Rahm’s last win.
If only because of habit, Chicago mayors need the air of permanence in order to run the city. Richard J. Daley, the legendary boss of the Chicago Machine, was mayor for twenty-one years until his death in 1976. The city’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, gained the unofficial mayor-for-life title when he was reelected in 1987–but he died in office seven months later. The son of the Boss topped his father by serving twenty-two years as mayor; he retired in 2011 and Rahm succeeded him.
Chicago has 50 alderman–which is at least double the number it needs, especially since the City Council is traditionally a rubber-stamp body. The aldermen typically use their office to enrich themselves, both legally and illegally, and set up their relatives and cronies with government sinecures. If these alley despots play ball with the mayor, they typically stay in office. If not, usually covertly, the mayor sends his political army to topple the disobedient pol, which makes for many unhappy family gatherings for that former alderman.
But Rahm Emanuel is unpopular–his clout is diminished. And besides the McDonald scandal, Chicagoans are angry over last year’s property tax hike hike–the largest in city history. That tax increase is being used to pump cash into Chicago’s woefully underfunded public pension system. Pensions are a mess that Emanuel inherited from Daley, which could explain his decision to retire.
Chicago’s next mayor will probably be a leftist, possibly “Chuy.” But conservative-minded Chicagoans–yes, there are some–have three years to find a candidate. A fool’s hope? Probably. But Chicago needs a savior.
Chicago has suffered a tough run since the Great Recession of 2008-09. Its high murder rate has garnered America’s third-largest city the unfortunate nickname of Chiraq–a morphing of Chicago and Iraq. Depopulation–a big problem for most rust belt cities–continues to plague Chicago. Its population hasn’t been as low as it is now since 1910. As with Illinois, unfunded public worker pensions are a millstone on the city’s budget. Chicago Public Schools may not have enough money to open this autumn–CPS has its own pension bomb about to explode.
But there is a bright spot. On Wednesday the Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup championship since 2010. Chicago has their first professional sports dynasty since Michael Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s.
Over one million fans lined the streets of Chicago’s downtown and the Near West Side for another championship parade. Loud cheers–except when Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s name was mentioned–filled Soldier Field for Stanley Cup rally. Four days later, many cars and homes are still flying Chicago Blackhawks flags.
For the first time since 1938, the Blackhawks won the Cup on home ice. Most Chicago area residents of course couldn’t be there–but the local ratings for Game 6–when Chicago defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL championship game, were the highest ever for a Blackhawks contest.
But sports is not a miracle elixir: A year after the deadly 1967 Detroit Race Riot–an event the Motor City never recovered from–the 31-win season of Tigers’ pitcher Denny McLain and the team’s World Series win offered a well-needed respite for Detroit. But that city’s slide continues to this day.
Will Chicago’s descent continue? In the short term Chicagoans are, at least for now, in a better mood.