Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chicago defends its title: Best political town in the US

Perhaps you are ignorant, and believe that DC or even New York have more interesting political cultures than Chicago. This isn't really forgivable, but I'll let it slide, since it's New Years Eve. Let me simply make the case, based on this article by Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times over the weekend.

In Chicago in 2009, Mayor Daley reached 20 years as mayor of the city his father had governed for 21, marking the imminent demise of his father's title as longest-serving mayor in the city's history. Despite running the city so ruthlessly that he's never once had a serious challenger since being elected in the first place, it's still possible for reporters to write sentences like, "[Richard M. Daley] responded by showcasing a political resiliency that has long been underestimated." If you run any other city in America for two straight decades, and never once face serious electoral opposition, nobody will underestimate your political resiliency. But such is the mark that his father left on the city (titles of books about him include "American Pharaoh", "Boss", "Himself!", "Clout" and "The Last Boss") that Richie may never fully emerge in his own right, despite being a fairly fascinating character himself.

In Chicago in 2009, the City privatized its parking meters for the next 75 years, earning $1.5 billion and blowing it all almost immediately to shore up a massive budget deficit. The City's Inspector General concluded, shortly after the deal went through, that taxpayers would have been nearly $1 billion better off over the 75 years, had the City retained the rights to the meters.

In Chicago in 2009, a 14-year-old talked his way into a police uniform and even got to drive a squad car, before it was discovered he was a) 14 years old and b) not a member of the police force. Daley was not pleased with this development.

In Chicago in 2009, the head of the city's schools left to become US Secretary of Education, triggering a cabinet shuffle involving the head of the city's transit agency and the Aviation Commissioner, which preceded another cabinet shuffle involving a dozen of the mayor's top advisers and commissioners.

In Chicago in 2009, Al Sanchez, the former head of the outrageously clout-heavy Streets and Sanitation department and the nearly-equally-clout heavy Hispanic Democratic Organization (Southeast) was convicted of hiring fraud. Two weeks ago, a judge ordered the case be retried, ensuring embarrassing testimony will be replayed.

In Chicago in 2009, police officers marched around City Hall chanting "Daley sucks!" during the International Olympic Committee's final visit to the city before giving the Olympics to Rio. The cops were mad because Daley rescinded a promised 16% pay increase (that they had already been critical of for being too small) as a result of the ongoing budget crisis.

In Chicago in 2009, the mayor's nephew was forced to drop out of a deal involving $68 million in city pension funds, following a wave of federal subpoenas. Daley publicly criticized the nephew, an event entirely without precedent among the Daley family.

In Chicago in 2009, the International Olympic Committee, after having extracted from Daley a promise to guarantee basically any expense the games incurred in Chicago (which he'd earlier, repeatedly, promised taxpayers he wouldn't grant), gave the games to Rio de Janeiro instead.

In Chicago in 2009, a well-connected alderman under investigation for accepting $40,000 in shady payments from a developer (yawn), agreed to wear a wire, which has just begun to yield indictments.

In Chicago in 2009, the President of the Board of Education was found shot in the head beside the Chicago River, an apparent suicide. It's not clear why he would have killed himself, but he had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury following a scandal regarding admissions to elite city high schools (like my alma mater, whose principal - my old principal! - was forced to testify.)

In Chicago in 2009, Oprah announced she was leaving the city in 2010, and Michael Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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