President George Bush shares a laugh at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant with Mayor Daley.
President George Bush shares a laugh at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant with Mayor Daley. Credit: Jon Sall/Sun-Times

As penance for something bad I did years ago, I forced myself to watch the Republican convention. I can’t quite remember what I did, but it must have been bad, because that circus was dreadful.

The only saving grace was that since I’d just had two teeth pulled, I was flying high on painkillers. Everything looks better with Vicodin, even Republicans.

I sat and watched as a chunky guy who looks like Jerry Krause—I’m sure you all remember the former general manager of the Bulls—was railing against bad teachers.

Then it sunk in—that was New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the fellow who’d been trashing President Obama as just another corrupt Chicago “ward politician.”

So many ironies. For one thing, who the hell is some guy from New Jersey to make fun of our legacy of corruption? I mean, that’s the state where just a few years ago authorities busted dozens of people for money laundering. Among them were three mayors, a couple of state legislators, and five rabbis. Not even Blago tried anything like that.

For another, if anyone looks like a typical Chicago Democratic ward hack it’s Christie. As a matter of fact, he sounded a lot like a certain guy in Chicago—our current mayor—as he ripped into teachers: “The Democrats love teachers’ unions, Republicans love teachers.”

Good god—the mere thought of it is making me reach for the Vicodin again.

You know, I’m not sure why Governor Christie even bothered with the whole Chicago ward thing. It didn’t work so well in 2008 when John McCain tried it. Maybe because around here it’s hard to tell the Democrats and Republicans apart.

Four years ago the top dog in Chicago was, of course, Mayor Daley. And he was precisely the kind of Chicago Democrat that Republicans say they love. In fact, lots of Republicans tried to cozy up to Daley as a way to woo the Reagan Democrats the former mayor presumably represented—i.e., white guys with working-class roots.

And Mayor Daley was happy to play political footsie with them too. I’ll never forget how he gratuitously ripped into Democrats and gushed over President George W. Bush right after Bush eked out a win over John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. “The Democrats have been taken over by Washington elitists,” Daley said, who “don’t like faith-based organizations” or people “who maybe read the Bible or read the Koran.”

It was like a bad imitation of something written by Karl Rove.

Two years later, on July 6, 2006, President Bush came to Chicago to celebrate his 60th birthday with Mayor Daley at the Chicago Firehouse restaurant in the South Loop.

“Laura said, ‘What do you want for your birthday?'” Bush told reporters. “I said, ‘I want to have a dinner in Chicago with the mayor.'”

That birthday dinner, by the way, occurred on the same day that four of Daley’s underlings, including Robert Sorich, his patronage chief, were convicted of corruption charges in federal court.

To this day plenty of politicians around here believe that the trip to Chicago was Bush’s way of telling the feds to lay off Daley in any subsequent investigations—a way of thanking the mayor for not doing a damn thing for Kerry.

In any event, Republicans supported almost every one of Mayor Daley’s major initiatives over the last ten years—even the ones that seemed to conflict with the party’s supposed conservative principles.

That included the General Assembly’s 2003 passage of the O’Hare Modernization Act. The law gave Mayor Daley the power of eminent domain to buy up 533 homes and 72 businesses—roughly 15 percent of Bensenville—and turn it into a dead zone. It was supposed to make way for the expansion of O’Hare, which has been stalled largely because there’s no demand for an expanded airport. So much for the GOP’s respect for the private-property rights of the little man.

The Republicans also wholeheartedly supported the mayor’s plans to bring the Olympics to Chicago, a boondoggle that undoubtedly would have bankrupted the city. Daley even recruited Patrick Ryan—one of the state’s leading Republican donors—to oversee the Olympic effort.

On the local side, the only Republican in the city council, Alderman Brian Doherty, was a routine yes vote for Mayor Daley’s tax increment financing deals, even as they jacked up the property tax. When Doherty was replaced by a Democrat last year, nothing changed. So much for the party’s reputation as the taxpayer’s friend.

And when former Cook County commissioner Mike Quigley—now a congressman—moved to reform the TIF program by putting the numbers on tax bills, the board’s Republican commissioners joined forces with the mayor’s brother John Daley to stymie him.

I love to bring that up whenever I see one of my favorite Republicans, former Cook County commissioner Tony Peraica.

What’s up, Tony!

The TIF take still isn’t on property tax bills, by the way.

While we’re on the subject of TIFs, I should note that Chicago isn’t the only place where politicians are practicing this scam on taxpayers. Such Republican-dominated suburbs as Rosemont, Palatine, Cicero, and Hoffman Estates are also in on the game. (For a full suburban TIF breakdown, go to county clerk David Orr’s website).

There are even TIF districts in Governor Christie’s New Jersey. And from what I’ve been reading on the website of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, “localities too often use tax-increment financing as an all-purpose subsidy for developers.” Sound familiar?

Maybe I should fly into Trenton and launch an investigation. I’m sure Mayor Emanuel will be happy to pay my fare—anything to get me out of town.

Speaking of my favorite mayor, for all his reputation as a pit bull for Democrats, he’s currently advancing an agenda that would go over well at a GOP convention: TIF handouts for corporations, tax breaks for billionaires, and charter schools—more, more, more charter schools!

While the GOP was meeting in Florida, the board of the mayor’s infrastructure trust fund had a meeting as it gears up to sell city services to the highest bidder. At least, I hope it’s the highest bidder, as opposed to the most connected.

Moreover, the day after Christie’s speech, Juan Rangel—the CEO of UNO, one of the mayor’s favorite charter school operations—was ripping into the Chicago Teachers Union in a speech before the City Club.

According to my man Mick Dumke, several Democrats were on hand, including Alderman Joe Moore, who had a choice seat at Rangel’s table. Not coincidentally, UNO is moving into Moore’s ward, taking over part of the old St. Scholastica high school.

Personally, I have a feeling that Obama is going to win the November election. But the Republicans shouldn’t feel too bad—when it comes to ideology, they’ve practically taken control of his hometown. Not a bad consolation prize.