Elections make people do all sorts of funny things—look no further than the past year for the latest and most amusing evidence.
Chicago politics in 2014 was dominated by state and national elections, as well as jockeying in advance of the municipal elections next February. And so it was no coincidence that political operators who have long protected the powerful started talking about the little guy. To which we say: Look out, little guy!
Next year we’ll determine if those operators start to deliver on their promises.
For now, though, it’s time to reflect on what happened this year. So without further ado, here are our fourth annual Awards for Achievement in Local Politics.
The Thurston Howell III Plutocrat of the Year Award
. . . for using his immense fortune to influence government:
Kenneth Griffin, the state’s richest man and CEO of Citadel LLC, a hedge fund conglomerate. Griffin donated more than $5 million to Republican Bruce Rauner’s gubernatorial campaign—a glaring example of how, as we described in June, the state’s campaign finance laws allow wealthy candidates and their friends to buy their way out of the rules that were supposed to put a lid on money in politics. And—just to show he’s bipartisan—he gave another $150,000 to Chicago Forward, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s PAC.
The Johnny Paycheck “Take This Job and Shove It” Award
. . . for declaring “I ain’t working here no more”:
Dave McKinney, the hard-hitting veteran reporter who resigned in protest from the Sun-Times after he was pulled off a story under pressure from Rauner’s campaign. The paper (which shares an owner with the Reader) also endorsed Rauner for governor—the only endorsement it made during the election cycle.
The Jerry Butler “Never Gonna Give You Up” Award
. . . for being unable to just walk away:
Outgoing governor Pat Quinn, who showed no signs of being able to let go even after his loss to Bruce Rauner almost certainly ended his three-decade career in electoral politics. In his waning days in office Quinn managed to hand out dozens of executive appointments and patronage gigs, such as the plum job of chairing the Illinois Sports Facility Authority, which he gave to a 30-year-old aide. In doing so, he offered one last middle finger to Rauner and Mayor Emanuel by denying them the chance to pick one of their guys.
The Louis XIV “the Sun King” Award
. . . for enduring civil unrest, financial problems, and external wars while retaining control of the state for decades:
Michael Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois house, who was vilified as a corrupt career politician in Rauner’s attack ads during the election cycle—and then ended up retaining his veto-proof majority in the house, ensuring that yet another governor will have to pay his respects.
The Michelle Alexander Award (named after the author of The New Jim Crow)
. . . for challenging the notion that tough-on-crime laws and incarceration are the answer:
State representative Ken Dunkin, who helped kill Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to lengthen sentences for gun crimes, which would have sent more men into the state’s already overcrowded prison system. Dunkin followed that by being one of the few elected officials to question the mayor’s insistence that crime is under control. Let’s hope this debate continues in the New Year.
The Regina George Award (named after the chief bully in Mean Girls)
. . . for using power and prestige to go after the little people:
Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, who made international headlines shortly before the 2012 NATO summit by charging a group of anarchists with plotting terrorist acts. When the case finally came to trial this year, jurors didn’t buy it: they convicted the so-called NATO Three of the lesser charge of mob action for making Molotov cocktails, allegedly at the instigation of undercover police officers. Alvarez said she would do it all again.
The Eddie Haskell Apple-Polisher Award
. . . for publicly sucking up to your boss:
Lawyers in the state’s attorney’s office, who gave Alvarez an award for prosecuting the NATO Three.
First runner-up: Alderman Tom Tunney (44th), who went door-to-door collecting signatures to help Mayor Emanuel get on the ballot. Apparently, voting for nearly every mayoral proposal wasn’t enough.
The Chuck D Speaking Truth to Power Award
. . . for telling it like it is in meter:
The Team Englewood poets. These teenagers from Team Englewood high school brought down the house at this year’s Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Slam with “Mayor Wreck-it Rahm.” Greatest line: “Step one: take away our schools; step two: put them out their homes; lastly: destroy it all and deny, deny, deny!”
The Emperor Has No Clothes Award
. . . for pointing out that Mayor Emanuel should not be feared just because he has $9 million and counting in his campaign account:
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, a persistent critic of Emanuel’s since he took office. Unfortunately for one and all, a health condition prevented her from running for mayor and forcing Emanuel to defend his record.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Minimum Wage Award
. . . for putting income inequality on the agenda:
The low-wage workers of Chicago. Their protests forced Mayor Emanuel to endorse hiking the minimum wage. With the mayor’s backing, the City Council voted to boost it to $13 an hour by 2019.
The Cee-Lo “Fuck You” Award
. . . for letting us know in word and deed how you really feel:
Alderman and mayoral candidate Robert Fioretti, who took his criticism of Mayor Emanuel’s education and budget policies from the City Council to the campaign trail. It’s not clear whether Fioretti can win, but he’s getting his licks in.
The Dwight Eisenhower Award
. . . for letting the CTU draft him to run for mayor:
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Toni Preckwinkle wouldn’t do it, Karen Lewis couldn’t do it, and so Chuy said he would. Also known as the Stephen Stills “Love the One You’re With” Award, because after other progressive darlings took a pass, Garcia became the go-to guy.
The Goldman Sachs Award
. . . for finding creative ways to profit from the government:
Goldman Sachs. Who else? The New York-based investment bank led a consortium of rich guys who convinced Mayor Emanuel to back a deal essentially giving them up to $17 million in interest on a loan to run a pre-K program. Obviously, it didn’t take all that much convincing.
The Boy George “Karma Chameleon” Award
. . . for radically transforming oneself just in time for an election:
Mayor Emanuel, who’s bent on turning himself into Eleanor Roosevelt in the hopes that voters will forget he spent his first three years ruling like Herbert Hoover.
The Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense” Award
. . . for realizing that kicking kids out of school doesn’t encourage them to ever go back and earn their diplomas:
Mayor Emanuel, who’s right when he says that high school graduation rates have gone up in Chicago. Yes, we said it—the mayor is right on this one. Keeping kids moving through school instead of flunking them seems to have helped. Maybe this is his first step toward actually making that radical transformation.
Happy New Year!