Chicago is the city where I was born — and I remain proud of that fact, probably as many people hold an allegiance to where their roots were first planted.
Am I proud of Chicago’s murder rate that I just heard is larger than Los Angeles and New York City’s combined? No. Am I proud of the city’s reputation for political corruption dating back a century or more and is measured yearly by the number of public officials found guilty of crimes? No.
Nevertheless, I love the city. Like a wayward child that a parent doesn’t give up hope on, I can’t give up on the possibility that some day such a great city will wake up and change direction when it comes to its politics. A pipe dream? Maybe. But a fiscal reckoning is coming, now or later.
One of the peculiarities of the Illinois election cycles is that they overlap. We are many months away from the November 2018 elections, yet the consolidated primary election taking place next February is gaining steam. It’s no wonder that so many hard-working people in this state tune out this stuff. It’s purposefully designed to overwhelm and thus produce low-voter attention and turnout. There’s no better way to continue the corruption.
The Chicago mayoral race has been a matter of entertainment for me since the late Jane Byrne, who in Trump-like fashion, won a big upset victory over the establishment in 1979. Her victory was due in no small part to the city’s failure to plow the side streets during the previous winter.
Rahm Emanuel, the current incumbent mayor running for a third term, is just a little older than me but a lot richer. After serving as a hatchet man for Chicago politicians and then President Bill Clinton, he was awarded with one of those short-term Wall Street jobs that made him rich. He served as Barack Obama’s first Chief of Staff, and then returned to Chicago to become the chief potentate after the reign of the Mayor Daleys ended.
According to one source, ten people have declared to take on Emanuel in the primary next year. Outside of the city where I live, only a few of the names are recognizable, including Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Neal Sales-Griffin, professor at Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Paul Vallas, former Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools.
The other declared candidates include Lori Lightfoot, President of the Chicago Police Board, John Kozlar, candidate for Ward 11 in Chicago in 2015, Garry McCarthy, former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, and Willie Wilson, businessman and candidate for mayor in 2015, candidtate for President in 2016.
For some of us, it was big news for many when Paul Vallas entered the race a month ago. Why? Chicago, like the state of Illinois, is a fiscal mess. Former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chairman William Isaac, who “knows insolvency when he sees it,” was the first major financial figure to call Chicago (and Illinois) bankrupt according to Mark Glennon at Wirepoints.
Both the city and state, however, have a sizable tax base that keeps the corrupt system afloat for now. Whether it’s debt, government employee pensions, or flat-out illegalities, as of now there’s enough money available to avoid a Detroit-like bankruptcy. At least on the surface. As figures lie and liars figure, the true numbers will eventually reveal an insolvency similar to what the state of Illinois is experiencing. Tax revenues allow the scam to be perpetuated but the can — can be booted down the road for only a limited time.
Rahm’s reelection would see yet another punting of that can. Unless he decides that it’s time to be honest and talk turkey with the interest groups that abuse the over-taxed and over-regulated people of the city.
Would Paul Vallas be that honest if he were to be elected? From his past work I sense that yes, he could be. But all Democrats are weak and obedient to the powers that pay for campaigns (such as teacher unions). Would Paul rise above it all and Trump-like take on the corrupt establishment? Your guess is as good as mine.
“Game of Thrones” fans remember how often “winter is coming” was said during the first season of the popular HBO series. Here’s the equivalent: “bankruptcy is coming.” In Illinois and Chicago, this is not fiction but basic math.
Economics might be a dismal science but most of all it’s an intolerant and unforgiving science. Anyone that has spent more than they take in eventually faces the reality of that science. Illinois government at all levels — Chicago included — will eventually come face to face with reality.
Right now, we have a lot of economic science deniers. But they’re destined to lose. The only question is — will Rahm or Paul or one of the other candidates get honest with the public and their own political party before the day of reckoning comes?
Eventually Chicago, like Illinois, will face the economic grim reaper. Whether that process begins during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns will be the biggest story to watch.
Image credit: The Atlantic.