Within moments of Amazon’s announcement that Chicago was one of 20 finalists in its let’s-get-the-dumbass-public-to-pay-for-our-headquarters scam, Mayor Rahm and his allies were touting reasons our fair city should win the prize, dubious as it may be.
They bragged about things like great transportation and lots of universities and tons of supersmart techies and plenty of relatively affordable housing and yada, yada, yada.
Well, let me ask you this, people. If Chicago’s so great, how come we have to pay Amazon to move here?
Of course, the same question could be asked of New York, D.C., Boston, Indianapolis, and all the other suckers on Amazon’s short list. But I’ll just concentrate on the Chi.
As we all know, the real issue in this deal is which city is best positioned to bamboozle and bully its citizenry into forking over untold billions to one of the world’s richest companies.
And at the risk of sounding like a Chicago booster, I think we can all agree that Chicago has some civic virtues that make it second to none on this front. Let’s take it point by point. Chicago is . . .
Or at least we have tons of money—$550 million or so a year—flowing into the tax increment financing honey pot, which the mayor’s pretty much free to spend as he wants, thanks to a rubber-stamp City Council.
We believe just about anything the mayor tells us, which is largely how he gets away with the aforementioned TIF program. He tells us TIFs don’t raise taxes or divert money from the schools, even though they do.
In the case of Amazon, the mayor’s already convinced all the major papers and most of our elected officials that it’s a good idea to deprive our schools of billions and give it to Amazon. This is the city that let Mayor Daley talk it into believing the Olympics was a good idea. Hell, if Mayor Rahm told us there really is an Easter Bunny, half of Chicago would probably start hunting for eggs.
We like to think we’re so big and bad, but push comes to shove and Chicago rolls over like a little puppy dog when the mayor barks his command.
The City Council is virtually the mayor’s court, and since he appoints all the members of the so-called oversight committees, they’re worthless at keeping him from wasting money on frivolous schemes.
Why, just last year the Better Government Association and Crain’s Chicago Business teamed up to report that $55 million earmarked for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena in the South Loop actually wound up being spent on Navy Pier.
We live in segregated corners of our universe, so it’s easy for any mayor to play one against the other and conquer and divide.
In the recent debate over giving $5.5 million in TIF funds to Presence Health, for example, the mayor got many of his black City Council allies to guilt-trip their white liberal counterparts who opposed the deal. Somehow they managed to turn a $5.5 million handout for an office in an upscale downtown office building into a crusade against white hypocrisy.
Well, yes, it’s true that a few years back the City Council approved a TIF deal for Swedish Covenant hospital without debate. But Swedish Covenant isn’t as restrictive when it comes to women’s health as Presence, which withholds certain forms of treatment along with abortion. More to the point, the Presence subsidy isn’t going to its neighborhood clinics—it’s going to the downtown headquarters.
And while I’m at it, TIF funds shouldn’t go to health-care providers to begin with. Hospitals, clinics, and the like are generally exempt from property taxes, and the whole point of the TIF program is to increase an existing tax base.
But—wait. Where was I? Trying to cut through the thicket of the mayor’s counterarguments, I got lost in the weeds. And in fact you might say Chicago is also . . .
Which ought to come in real handy for the mayor as the Amazon debate unfolds.
Anyway, in the case of Presence, you had black aldermen playing the race card to help perpetuate a reverse-Robin Hood TIF program that robs from the poor and gives to the rich.
The mayor also tried to play the race card in the fight over the Lucas Museum. Just as Mayor Daley played it in the fight over moving the Children’s Museum to Grant Park. You know, it’s a wonder there’s any poverty at all in Chicago, what with all the wonderful things our mayors are doing to fight it.
You watch, before the Amazon debate is over, we’ll see the mayor and his west- and south-side allies saying it’s all about helping kids in our most impoverished communities. Even as he closes their schools and all but ushers them out of town.
By the way, can we just take a moment to appreciate the irony of Rahm shamelessly playing the race card on behalf of a TIF program that’s so unfair to so many low-income black communities? I mean, this is the same mayor who closed mental health clinics in high-crime, low-income neighborhoods—so much for wanting to offer heath care to poor people—and who concealed the Laquan McDonald tape for about a year. And closed all those schools. And so forth.
Being docile, gullible, tribalistic, and easily distracted is no way to go through life. But it’s a helluva way for Rahm to get away with forking over billions to Amazon. v