As the holidays approach, I’d like to gather a little cheer to spread throughout the land, but so far my gift bag’s got nothing in it but a hole.
Politically speaking, at least. Man, what a lousy year.
The mayoral campaign came down to a choice between Mayor Daley’s north/northwest side faction (Rahm Emanuel) and his southwest side faction (Gery Chico). The north/northwest side ran away with it largely because the city’s black voters went along with President Obama’s wink-and-a-nod endorsement of Emanuel—and there wasn’t an electable black candidate.
Now Mayor Rahm’s the ruler of the land.
About the only good thing I can say about that election is that we were spared a runoff, in which we would’ve had to choose between two candidates knocking each other over to explain how they love Mayor Daley while proposing to change most everything he did.
As usual, the guy I voted for lost.
Of course, the guy I vote for generally loses. An exception came when I voted for the winner in the 2002 governor’s race—and that didn’t work out so well either.
Speaking of which—14 years is a long stretch in federal prison. Rod Blagojevich will have tons of time to recite Kipling, Shakespeare, and Greek mythology.
As long as we’re on the topic of ineffective elected officials—how about our City Council?
For the better part of the election cycle last winter and spring, I trekked around town, hearing one aldermanic candidate after another vow not to be a mayoral puppet.
What great news: the rubber-stamp days were over!
In fact, I heard the rookies—Ameya Pawar, Tim Cullerton, James Cappleman, Debra Silverstein, Michael Chandler, and John Arena, just to name a few—wish they’d had been in the council in 2009 so they could have voted against the parking meter deal.
And the TIFs—my god, you should have heard them bash the TIFs. Pawar in particular worked to find different ways to describe how he would blow them up along with all the other slush funds and budget gimmicks in the city.
Well, they got elected and what happened? Folded like a bunch of lawn chairs.
In fact, Pawar is currently gearing up to endorse a $4.5 million TIF handout for a Mariano’s grocery store at Lawrence and Ravenswood.
You know, because it’s such a low-income, blighted community.
By the way, what’s with the love—and money—for Mariano’s? The upscale grocer is also one of the beneficiaries of a $7 million TIF deal in Greektown. Welcome to another low-income, blighted community.
If I’m the folks at Trader Joe’s, I’m thinking: Hey, where’s mine?
This reminds me to apologize for a little bit of wishful thinking I wrote last February in regards to Pawar: “At the age of 30 he’s developed a worldview in which life is a series of potential emergencies that can be met through smarter planning. He views the city’s government—with its looming debt—as an emergency brought on by catastrophically bad management.
“‘In the aftermath of a disaster, you discover that everything’s a direct result of preexisting conditions,’ Pawar says. ‘This is a financial disaster. We’re coming up with gimmicks like TIFs and we’re plugging the budget by selling off assets. It’s like a pawn-shop government, selling the watch to fund the city.'”
Please forgive me—I was like a Cub fan hopped up on hope by the arrival of Theo Epstein.
Now back to reality.
In November, all the wanna-be reformers lined up with the Mells, Burkes, and Suarezes for a 50-nothing endorsement of the mayor’s budget, including its regressive water-sewer tax hike, water-sewer slush fund, library cuts, and mental health clinic closures.
But the aldermen weren’t content with merely approving the budget. They also rose to exalt it, proclaiming Mayor Emanuel the world’s greatest mayor since the last world’s greatest mayor.
Whose name they don’t dare mention, perhaps out of fear that Mayor Emanuel might take it the wrong way.
Taking it all in with a bemused smile was Mayor Emanuel himself. If I know him—and I’ve been watching him for a long time—I bet he was thinking: What a bunch of fucking wimps!
And for once, Mr. Mayor, you and I can agree.
But there’s always next year. Maybe that’ll be the year they grow a collective backbone. Just like the Cubs winning the World Series—you’ll see.
For the last few nights, I’ve been staying up late reading a book about Chicago politics called Love and Shame, by Peter Orner.
Well, it’s not really about Chicago politics, even if it’s all about politics.
It’s a novel that traces the lives of a Jewish family from the 1930s through the ’90s as they move from Chicago to Highland Park.
None of the main characters is an elected official, though one of them unsuccessfully runs for state representative. But they’re consumed by local politics. They talk about politics all the time, and the great moments of their lives are linked to big political events going on around them—the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley, Mayor Jane Byrne moving into Cabrini-Green, Mayor Harold Washington’s 1983 mayoral triumph, the 1989 election of Mayor Daley, and so forth.
There are so many wonderful political scenes. One’s in Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz’s chambers, where the great judge quizzes the bar mitzvah boy on his favorite Bible passage. About Marovitz, Orner writes: “He remains a loyal, if wayward, stalwart. And hey, if Judge Marovitz was crooked, he wasn’t that crooked, which in Chicago, as everywhere, if everywhere was as honest about being dishonest, means something.”
Great line. Wish I’d written it.
Another great moment comes in the cloakroom at the Standard Club, where Jake Arvey, the late west side political boss, pilfers a hat.
And then there’s the scene at the family dinner table the night that Mayor Daley died, prompting the father to proclaim: “This chicken, Mayor Daley raised it. He fried it up. That piece of corn. Mayor Daley grew it. The bread, he milled it. He brewed this beer. Your shoes—look at your shoes. The mayor cobbled them. Everything we have . . .”
Sounds like one of the aldermen at this year’s budget debate.
I also loved the scene—oh, just go out and get it for Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa. Or check it out of the library—before Mayor Emanuel and his band of loyal aldermen phase them out.
The point is that the characters in the book, like the aldermen in the Council and the people in this city, have lain down. They have no resistance left. They worship their all-powerful mayor as wise, benevolent, caring, and smart—even if he’s obviously not.
Kind of depressing, when you think about. So let’s think about something else, like my favorite joke of the year.
A doctor walks into his examining room and says to the patient: “Sir, you’re going to have to stop masturbating.”
“Why?” the patient asks.
And the doctor says, “So I can examine you!”
I know—it has nothing to do with nothing.
But, like I said, it’s the holiday season—let’s be cheery.