Rahm Emanuel inherited a tough challenge when he became mayor of Chicago in 2011: the city faced hundreds of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls and crippling unfunded pension liabilities. Yet Barack Obama’s former chief of staff managed to make things worse by pursuing a policy of elite-oriented urbanism, or what Joel Kotkin and Fred Siegel have dubbed “gentry liberalism”: increased spending on amenities and subsidies targeted at the elite, accompanied by painful cuts in basic public services for the poor and middle class. In 2012, for instance, Chicago slashed its library budget by $8 million—nearly 10 percent—forcing reductions in hours and staffing levels. The city also closed half of its mental health clinics.
These cuts could perhaps be justified for budgetary reasons if the pain were spread evenly. But Emanuel—relying heavily on tax-increment financing (TIF) subsidies greatly expanded under his predecessor, Richard M. Daley—has doled out a nearly limitless stream of money for upper-tier benefits. Hoping to lure talented young professionals, Emanuel has brought protected bike lanes and a bike-share program to Chicago. The city is spending $100 million on a lavish, six-block “riverwalk” along the Chicago River and $54 million on Chicago’s answer to New York’s High Line—the Bloomingdale Trail, a project first conceived under Daley’s administration. Chicago gave $30 million in TIF subsidies to the developers of a new office tower, one of many special breaks offered to downtown businesses and developers. Perhaps most infamously, the city extended another $50 million in TIF funds to DePaul University for a dubious arena project that actually takes commercial property off the tax rolls.
Chicago’s TIF program has long been criticized as a mayoral slush fund.
Here’s an interesting article from Aaron M. Renn at City Journal about everyone’s favorite big city mayor: