• Nam Y. Huh/AP
  • Which guy is really for Chicago? Like, all of Chicago.

I can say without much hyperbole that there’s no colleague I esteem more than Michael Miner, the Reader‘s media critic/supplier of whimsical musings/bestower of the Golden BAT award. That didn’t stop me from sharing the feelings of many commenters on a post of his a few weeks back, “Why aren’t progressives ecstatic about the race for mayor?” It recounts a dinner-table discussion among various professionals, some of whom rub elbows with the mayor, all of whom are characterized as progressives. I’ve heard the piece summed up as “thoughts on the election from the wine-and-cheese set.”

From the comments on the post:

J. Giola: “You get the idea that no one quoted in the article above regularly rides city buses, or finds transit fares too high, or sends kids to public schools on the south side, or will be treated to a trip to Homan Sq., or is greatly troubled by a downtown economy mainly geared to out-of-towners (who are, btw, bilked unmercifully by hotel, rental car, and sales taxes).”

Wilfredo Santana: “aldermanic candidate, doctor, and developer, While it is interesting to see what people like this are thinking in terms of the election I am not sure they are your typical progressives, at least I hope not. I am hopeful there are enough progressives among the people of Chicago’s less affluent communities to elect Jesus García. And in what universe does Rahm Emanuel qualify as a progressive?”

He’s not the only one who’s been asking this question. In fact, another was featured in Miner’s post: “Wonders a lawyer active in Harold Washington’s 1983 campaign, ‘By what definition is Rahm a progressive?'”

But let’s not haggle over labels—I’m writing as someone who regularly rides city buses (something Miner’s been known to do as well, though he’s more of a train guy).

Last fall circumstances moved me from Rogers Park to godforsaken Lakeview. I spent 15 years on the far north side, and this new neighborhood still freaks me out.

Everybody’s white.

OK, not everybody—just 86 percent of the population. It’s the mayor’s part of town; his house isn’t far from me.

Now, I’m aware that I myself am white, and I’ve got nothing against white people per se. But having lived in Rogers Park for years while taking the Red Line or #147 bus to work downtown and back, I’m used to Chicago—you know, the one that’s roughly 30-30-30 white, black, and Hispanic?

Of course, it’s no secret that Chicago is deeply, some would say intractably segregated. Let’s face it, in some ways it’s a stretch to speak of “our city” when in fact there are two Chicagos, mostly affluent white Chicago and mostly poor black Chicago. Once I moved I was face-to-face with it, where before I lived among all sorts of people. I felt—feel!—totally alienated. As I stood one morning waiting for the light to change on my way to the Brown Line (hate it), I saw eight SUVs in a row turn off Ravenswood onto Irving Park Road. Everybody in this part of town seems to drive them. (OK, maybe it’s just 86 percent, and Rahm mostly gets driven in one.) Haven’t they heard about climate change?

What’s that got to do with the mayor’s race? Well, which Chicago do you think Mayor Emanuel is “for”? I’m sure he’d insist the ubiquitous campaign slogan “Rahm for Chicago” means all of Chicago, just as he assures us he makes his “hard choices” because he knows what’s best for the city as a whole. But those hard choices haven’t wound up benefiting the neighborhoods most in need of help. Instead, the largest development fund at the mayor’s disposal—the now infamous TIF program—disproportionately benefits the already affluent central neighborhoods.

But it’s not just about TIFs. The real problem with Mayor Emanuel, as I’ve come to see it, is that he’s a continuation of the autocratic mayoral rule we’ve subjected ourselves to since the 1980s. That’s why he thinks he can do things like close 50 schools with the wave of his hand or grant George Lucas lakefront property in public trust without needing anybody else’s say-so. Who’s going to tell him not to? If they try to, well, fuck them.

Not only that, this is supposed to be a selling point. He’s the tough-guy mayor who’ll fight for us. But who’s this “us,” and who’s he fighting—besides unions and teachers and pensioners, meanwhile giving audience to a steady stream of petitioners who just happen to be big-money campaign donors?

That’s politics, many say. But you’ll notice American politics hasn’t been doing so well as a representative democracy lately.

Friends, fellow bus riders, fellow Chicagoans: We don’t need a defender as much as we need a uniter. And we certainly don’t need another King Richie—that’s what Rahm once campaigned against, remember?