Tip O’Neill was right–all politics is local.
If you don’t believe me, check out the YouTube clip of a meeting Wednesday in West Rogers Park, featuring 50th Ward alderman Berny Stone.
Folks were in an uproar about a new public school that the city, with Stone’s support, is building in their community. Of course, their primary complaint is that it will limit parking and cause traffic congestion.
To his credit, Stone is refreshingly blunt and unyielding. He makes no attempt to pander to the locals. As he sees it, the educational needs of students in overcrowded classrooms trump the parochial concerns of homeowners worried about traffic. And if you don’t like it, tough.
At one point, a resident notes that the school is being paid for with money coming out of the Devon Avenue TIF. As the resident correctly points out, TIF money is intended to redevelop blighted communities (in this case Devon Avenue), not build schools. If Stone wants to build schools, fine–but don’t use TIF money.
It’s a valid point to which Stone responds with a masterfully confusing explanation of how TIFs work. Eyes glaze, attention wanders, the locals fight to stay awake. And when he’s finished they started shrieking again about traffic.
The point is that the little things are the big things in politics–it’s what you do every day that matters. If parents driving their kids to school block your street and make it hard for you to get to work on time, then that’s what ‘s going to get you to a meeting on very cold Wednesday night. Not overcrowded classrooms in other kids’ schools or a massive, hard-to-understand property-tax scam.
There’s a larger lesson here for enterprising candidates looking for a career in Chicago politics. You can rob the people blind, so long as you keep the traffic moving.