With another presidential election upon us, it’s time for me to write my quadrennial Don’t fool yourself, Chicago column, in which I plead with independents and Tea Party types not to view a vote for the Republican candidate as a vote against the Democratic machine.
I got this argument a lot from readers in 2008 and 2012, what with President Obama’s ties to Chicago and local political operatives like David Axelrod. Back in ’08, tons of Republicans tried to convince me that voting for McCain-Palin was somehow akin to opposing one of Mayor Daley’s TIF deals.
Not that any local Republicans—such as Bruce Rauner, to name one—ever did that.
But believe it or not, I’m still getting a few appeals from Tea Partiers these days, arguing that as an “opponent of the man” I should vote for Donald Trump, ’cause he’s an agent of change who will blow up the “rigged” system.
Good God, my friends, please don’t fall for that argument. You’d only be fooling yourself.
For what it’s worth, it’s pretty obvious I wouldn’t vote for Trump even if he were the second coming of Leon Despres.
But as it turns out, Trump’s a bust even on the antimachine front.
OK, he doesn’t have as many ties to Mayor Emanuel as Hillary Clinton does—what with Rahm having worked in the Clinton White House and all.
But for all his talk about the “rigged” system, the Donald proved to be pretty good at gaming said system when he rolled into Chicago in the early 2000s to tear down the old Sun-Times building and build Trump Tower.
Building that tower required making peace with Mayor Daley and virtually every other powerful Democrat in this town. And by cultivating ties with Democrats, he was rewarded with a tax break (surprise, surprise) and permission to build his big-ass sign.
Trump donated $12,500 to the Cook County Democratic Party in 2005. No doubt he figured that local Democratic leaders—like Cook County assessor Joe Berrios and Alderman Ed Burke—might come in handy.
Curiously, Trump also donated $5,000 to former governor Rod Blagojevich on the eve of his first election in 2002. Not sure why he did that—Blago had no direct say in building permits, zoning, or local taxes. Maybe they just had a special kinship as rampant narcissists obsessed with their hair.
But Trump’s biggest local political donation was the $50,000 he donated to Emanuel’s first mayoral campaign.
That donation came on December 23, 2010, a couple months before Rahm was elected. Apparently Trump was smart enough to figure out that Rahm was going to beat his competition—despite my endorsement of Miguel del Valle.
In 2011, Emanuel’s administration approved the god-awful 20-foot-high “T-R-U-M-P” sign that the Donald felt compelled to plaster on his building overlooking the Chicago River.
After the Tribune‘s Blair Kamin criticized the sign in June 2014—calling it, among other things, “grotesquely overscaled”—Emanuel was quick to say that he hated it too, calling it “architecturally tasteless.”
That set off the great Emanuel-Trump sign feud, which was about as believable as the mayor’s feud with Governor Rauner—speaking of Republicans who get along great with Rahm.
In reality, Trump had a field day, because the controversy brought him tons of publicity.
“I have the hottest brand in the world right now, and there are those who are saying I’m doing Chicago a favor,” he told reporters. “I’ve got thousands of people saying, ‘Don’t do anything with the sign.'”
Doesn’t that sound just like Trump?
By then, of course, there was nothing the mayor could do about the sign, as his administration had already approved it—a point that Trump took great delight in making.
As part of the fallout, Emanuel had the City Council adopt something called the “Chicago River Corridor Special Sign District.”
Had that ordinance been in place before Trump received permission for his sign, his sign would be much smaller.
But the law wasn’t in place back then—another point Trump loves to make, because he’s now guaranteed to have the huuugest sign on the river.
So all in all, you might say that Trump’s $50,000 campaign contribution to candidate Emanuel was money well spent.
But Mayor Emanuel’s not Trump’s only Democratic pal in town. Trump also hired Alderman Burke’s law firm to handle his tax appeals to Assessor Berrios’s office. Burke then won Trump several million dollars worth of property tax breaks.
When he came to our First Tuesday show at the Hideout last month, Berrios insisted that Burke’s law firm had nothing to do with winning property tax breaks for Trump Tower.
Trump got those tax breaks, Berrios said, because of the commercial vacancies in the tower. (The more vacancies in a commercial building the lower its taxable value.)
In other words, Berrios claimed that Trump would have won those tax breaks even if I had been handling his appeal.
My bad. Guess Trump was just playing it safe by hiring Burke.
Now, I don’t want to leave you thinking that there aren’t any reasons why you should vote for Trump. Oh, no. I don’t believe that.
If you are, say, a bigot who despises Mexicans and Muslims, or a misogynist who thinks it’s been all downhill for our country since women got the right to vote, or a nihilist who thinks it’s time to give chaos a try, then Trump’s your guy.
But don’t kid yourself into thinking that a vote for Trump is a vote against Daley, Rahm, or the Chicago machine. Trump’s been running with that pack for a long time. v