Ever since Mayor Rahm kicked off his reelection campaign, I’ve been reminded of this otherwise forgettable 1960s flick called A Guide for the Married Man.
In that movie—which I may be the only person in Chicago who remembers—Charlie, a character played by Joey Bishop, is in bed with his girlfriend when his wife walks into the room.
There and then, Charlie employs a unique strategy to escape the consequence of being caught as a philanderer. He boldly and blatantly denies, denies, denies.
“Charlie!” exclaims the wife.
“What?” says Charlie.
“What are you doing with her?”
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
And so on as Charlie and the girlfriend hop out of bed, throw on their clothes, make the bed, and walk out of the bedroom.
Eventually, Charlie’s wife—played by the always excellent Ann Morgan Guilbert—is so exasperated by her inability to get him to acknowledge what she saw with her very own eyes that she breaks down, utterly defeated, and asks what he wants for dinner.
In many ways, we, the voters of Chicago, are like Charlie’s beleaguered wife as Mayor Rahm Emanuel employs a strategy of denial in the hopes that we’ll ignore what we’ve seen with our own eyes and believe only what he tells us.
In the end, we won’t make him dinner. But we’ll reelect him, leaving him free to go back to his old ways.
If you recall, Emanuel began his mayoral tenure in 2011 like the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
He didn’t just close schools, clinics, and libraries while trash-talking union leaders. He also endorsed tax breaks and subsidies for wealthy companies. In his view of the world, if you fired a middle-class worker—like the Water Department employees whose jobs he farmed out in a privatization deal with a company in Japan—that was reform.
And if you offered tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to Marriott and DePaul University—for a hotel and basketball arena—that was economic development.
In his first few years the mayor basked in the love of out-of-town pundits who showered him with adulation and Wall Street millionaires who sent him campaign contributions.
And then, a few months ago, his campaign overseers apparently broke him the news that the Chicago electorate is not, by and large, made up of New York pundits and Wall Street types. And that ordinary Chicago voters were looking to bounce his sorry little you-know-what right out of office.
And that’s when he began his great Charlie denial strategy.
It consists of him telling and retelling stories like the one in his commercial about the minimum wage, to offer but one example.
In this ad, a woman who says she makes the minimum of $8.25 an hour at some unspecified job rejoices that she’ll be able to buy Christmas gifts for her children now that Mayor Rahm’s raised the wage to $13 an hour.
The problem is that the mayor hasn’t raised the minimum wage to $13 an hour. It’s still very much $8.25.
Under the mayor’s plan—which the City Council approved in December after workers had taken the issue to the streets—the minimum wage in Chicago will rise to $10 in July before gradually reaching $13 an hour in 2019.
So we’ll have to wait another four years to see if that will be enough to enable low-wage workers to buy Christmas gifts for their children.
Why would the mayor feel free to make a claim that’s not true? Well, flip the question: Why should he feel compelled to tell the truth?
I guess the mayor has an even lower estimation of the average Chicago voter’s intelligence than I do—and I’ve been ripping our voting habits for years.
Emanuel is figuring that if you put it on TV, most Chicagoans will believe it—or at least enough of them to help him avoid a runoff.
Especially since the mayor’s chief rivals—Alderman Bob Fioretti and Cook County commissioner Jesus Garcia—don’t have enough money to run commercials of their own.
That’s why the mayor’s early-childhood education commercials are so important.
Remember, the mayor’s handling of the public schools is his weak point. We saw with our own eyes as he closed schools, fired teachers, and farmed out contracts to charters.
To flip that switch, he’s running a commercial in which he pats himself on the back for having stood up to unnamed special interests who only wanted early childhood education to go to the “lucky few.”
Or as the mayor, looking directly into the cameras, puts it: “We’re going to stand tall as a city ’cause we’re willing to do what we can for our kids.”
Charlie would be proud of that whopper, Mr. Mayor.
Readers, if you only take one thing away from this column, please let it be this: It’s Mayor Emanuel himself who’s making sure that pre-K only goes to the “lucky few.”
Instead of paying for a pre-K expansion out of the regular school budget, Mayor Emanuel’s borrowing the money from various bankers. The result is that the mayor is effectively doubling the cost of the pre-K program so he can send Wall Street bankers up to $4 million a year in interest.
And you wonder why they’re contributing to his campaign.
Here’s the kicker. The repayment terms are based on whether the students in the banker-funded pre-K program outscore students who don’t take any pre-K program.
So the mayor signed on to a deal in which he must guarantee that some low-income four-year-olds don’t get pre-K education. Otherwise the Wall Street bankers don’t get their millions.
By the way, I happened to see the mayor’s pre-K commercial while I was watching the Golden Globes. How appropriate, since it’s filled with as much fiction as anything that Hollywood could produce.