In my endless search for the bright side of life in Chicago, I think I found some good news in the recent Sun-Times story about, of all things, Mayor Rahm’s latest financing scheme.
It’s an effort by the mayor to convince us he’s discovered a wonderful new financial instrument called “pension fund stabilization bonds” that will magically pay our bills without raising taxes.
Rahm’s proposing to borrow the money to meet pension obligations by selling bonds, which will then be repaid over time.
Not sure what’s new, or magical, about postponing obligations by borrowing money—and the Sun-Times was rightly skeptical in its headline: “Emanuel exploring pension bonds to minimize the need for future tax hikes.”
Well, of course, there will be future tax hikes. Those pension bonds will have to be paid off with something—meaning, your taxes, Chicago. In short, it’s another election-eve gimmick that’s designed to make you think you’re getting something for nothing.
So what’s my good news? It came near the end of the story, where Paul Vallas, one of Rahm’s mayoral challengers, let loose with a few on-target comments about how this is a classic case of “kicking the financial can down the road.”
Vallas would know a thing or two about how mayors kick the financial can down the road. In the 1990s he was revenue director for Mayor Richard M. Daley, the can-kicking king. He was also the CEO of Chicago Public Schools under Daley, so Vallas definitely knows firsthand how excessive borrowing leads to more money spent on interest and less money to be spent in the classroom.
Vallas’s relatively newfound willingness to speak bluntly is, of course, an extension of his own candidacy. But so what? I don’t necessarily care about why people do the right thing—just that they do it. Truth be told, one of our biggest shortages around here are insiders—City Hall aides, elected officials or civic leaders—with the guts to tell our mayors what they don’t want to hear. Generally, we’re a town of apple polishers who tell the mayor that any whacked-out scheme City Hall cooks up—like selling parking meters for a fraction of their value—is a good idea.
So I welcome Vallas’s entry into the race, and I hope he stays the distance, if only because he gives reporters a knowledgeable voice to turn to every time the mayor tries to feed us some BS on a variety of issues.
And Vallas is not alone. This election’s bringing us an abundance of much-needed alternative voices. What some insights on the ongoing privatization scams at the CPS? There’s Troy LaRaviere, who knows a thing or two or three about the games Rahm’s been playing with the schools, ’cause he was an elementary school principal before getting elected principal of the Chicago Principals & Adminstrators Association. (In many ways, LaRaviere is also the most consistent progressive in this race—a Bernie Sanders delegate, he may well have gotten fired as a principal because he openly supported Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 2015 mayoral campaign.)
Want to know about policing? Go to Lori Lightfoot, who was head of the Police Board and cochair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. She recently dissected the mayor’s 250-page police consent decree point by point, noting, among other things, that it dedicates no money to pay off the cost of an oversight monitor. Speaking of kicking the can down the road.
For that matter there’s Garry McCarthy, the former police superintendent, who’s also in the race. I realize there are many progressives in town who will never, ever warm up to McCarthy. (If you want to torment progressives, ask them whom to vote for should the mayoral runoff come down to Rahm versus Big Mac.) And yet I found myself cheering McCarthy’s plainspoken declaration that we don’t need, and can’t afford, to spend tens of millions of dollars on a police training academy. And that, in fact, we’d be better off spending that money reopening mental health clinics—you know, the ones the mayor closed—in low-income, high-crime communities.
I wish McCarthy had made this declaration back in 2011, when the mayor closed the clinics. But better late than never.
In some ways the mayoral race reminds of this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, where all the major candidates (J. B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, and Daniel Biss) found themselves moving left to keep pace with the electorate.
Oh, and let’s not forget former governor Pat Quinn. He’s not running for mayor. But he and his allies collected more than 86,000 signatures to put a mayoral term-limit referendum for voters on the November ballot. I have no doubt that Mayor Rahm will bring in his election lawyers to use every trick in the book to bounce Quinn’s referendum from the ballot.
As this legal struggle unfolds, take notes, Chicago. It’s never too late to learn a thing or two about how democracy gets subverted in this town.
But I was going to look on the bright side, right? So let me close by celebrating the dawn of a golden age of democracy in Chicago—or as close as this town can get to such a thing. Let’s hope it lasts longer than a month or two.