For most of the world, the calendar starts in January. But in Chicago, the New Year apparently began on November 24, when Mayor Emanuel finally released the video showing police officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down Laquan McDonald.
With that, Chicagoans awoke to the realization that—OMG!—we’re living in a corrupt autocracy ruled by a jerk. How come no one told us?!
For the benefit of the sleepyheads, let me run through just a few of the things that, politically speaking, happened in the first ten months of 2015-before you were paying attention.
January: Having spent the better part of the last two years swearing up and down that they would never, ever, ever vote for Mayor Rahm again, voters emerged from their New Year’s hangover to discover that his only opponents were four guys they’d never heard of.
That’s because Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle—who had been crushing Mayor Rahm in the polls—chickened out and didn’t run. Not knowing what else to do, many Chicagoans went back to sleep.
February: Chicago has a mayoral election in which the two highest vote getters are Mayor Emanuel (45 percent) and Cook County Board commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (33 percent).
Since no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote—in an election in which roughly 65 percent of the voters didn’t vote—Emanuel and Garcia headed to a runoff.
Suddenly reporters filled their stories with sentences explaining how the election works. Apparently voters didn’t realize we had a mayoral runoff system, even though we’ve had it for years. Proving once again that there’s really no reason for Mayor Emanuel—or any politician—to conceal information from the public, since the public is generally more than happy to remain uninformed on its own.
March: In an effort to save his political career, Mayor Rahm raises more than $30 million from various bankers, hedge funders, and other titans of corporate America—aka, his base. He then spends that money plastering the airwaves with commercials.
One commercial shows him in a sweater, apologizing, without actually saying what it is that he’s done wrong. Another commercial pummels Garcia for not having a plan to deal with the city’s fiscal nightmare, even though the mayor has no plan either.
Almost as soon as those commercials go on air, voters forget their pledge never to vote for Rahm and fall into line. Proving, once again, that you can’t go wrong underestimating the fortitude—or attention span—of the average Chicago voter. As Mayor Daley established years ago.
April: Two weeks after voters reelected the mayor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, takes a leave of absence. It turns out the feds are investigating her role in awarding a no-bid $20.5 million contract to Supes Academy, a company for whom she once worked.
Voters are aghast, saying, if we’d only known that Mayor Rahm’s handpicked schools CEO was corrupt, we never would have reelected him. Even though many details about the shady deal had been known for months. Proving that the best way to keep voters ignorant is to put stuff in the newspapers.
May: Voters realize they’ve elected a governor named Bruce Rauner who’s been cutting programs, like aid to people with autism, while everyone was distracted by the mayoral election. Chicago voters can be excused for not realizing there was a gubernatorial election in 2014, since less than half of them voted in it.
June: Having campaigned on a promise to make the hard choices to save the city from its mounting financial obligations, Mayor Emanuel takes the easy way out by borrowing another $1 billion or so to pay off the city’s debt. That means he’s borrowing money to pay back the money he already owes. Voters are outraged, saying if we’d only known Rahm had no fiscal plan . . .
July: Having finally paid the $640 million he owes the teachers’ pension fund, Mayor Emanuel turns right around and asks the pension fund to lend him back that money at 7.75 percent interest, so he can use it to pay for the upcoming school year. Thus turning teachers into loan sharks. Voters have no reaction because it’s summer and no one pays attention to boring stuff like pensions when it’s finally nice and you can go to the beach.
August: Forrest Claypool, the mayor’s new schools CEO, makes headlines for firing a bunch of central office employees that Byrd-Bennett had hired. Then, when the press isn’t paying attention, he hires his pals to fill those vacancies. Proving that while Claypool may know nothing about education, he knows how to work the press. Voters have no comment as they’re still on summer break.
September: Mayor Rahm gets chased out of one of his budget hearings by activists who are on a hunger strike, because he broke his promise to reopen a south-side neighborhood high school. Meanwhile, the mayor says he may not have enough money to get through the school year without laying off thousands of teachers. Voters are shocked, saying, if we’d only known Rahm was going to break his promises on school funding . . .
October: Byrd-Bennett pleads guilty to charges of steering the $20.5 million contract to Supes in exchange for “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.” As part of the case, feds release e-mails in which Byrd-Bennett tells Supes officials to hurry up and pay her because, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit.” It’s the greatest line in local politics since “I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden.” Voters say—in retrospect, Blago doesn’t look so bad.
November: Under orders from Cook County judge Franklin Valderrama, Mayor Emanuel grudgingly releases the McDonald tape. Protesters take to the streets demanding that the mayor be recalled, momentarily forgetting that we blew our chance to recall him back in April.
Happy New Year, Chicago. Let’s hope that 2016 is the year you finally pay attention. v