Chicago has always struck me as one of the most affluent cities in the world. Growing up in Chicagoland I saw little poverty in the city at the foot of glistening Lake Michigan. I am sure poverty was there, but Chicago in the 1960s seemed rich and abundant with opportunity. Alas, that was long ago. Chicago is still affluent at least on its north side and in the environs around Michigan Avenue, the city’s Magnificent Mile. Yet, statistics tell us something different when we consider Chicago as a whole. Its poor neighborhoods are desperate.
Read the headlines from the city that two generations of Daleys governed effectively. Young males, usually blacks, are dying on the streets often from run-ins with the police. For a certitude, they are acting recklessly, carrying weapons, often knives and guns, but the cops are acting aggressively. Just the other day a young man, agitated and carrying a baseball bat, was shot to death by a cop. Obviously Chicago cops are dangerous. Moreover, city government seems to be covering up for them.
Chicago, certainly in its impoverished neighborhoods, is a city out of control. There is a rising call for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s scalp. In 2010 I returned to my hometown and took an interest in Emanuel’s first race for mayor. I even threatened to run against the Godfather, as he is called, to liven things up. Frankly, I could not believe Rahm would really be interested in serving as the city’s mayor. Chicago was already on the verge of ruin. If I were to run it would be to run a heuristic exercise in politics similar to Bill Buckley’s campaign for mayor of New York in 1965, hoping to educate the local pols on the value of non-governmental alternatives to their policies that had obviously become mired in government, bureaucracy, and failure. Rahm and I could debate “the urban crisis” in terms very similar to the way “the urban crisis” of the 1960s was debated. Things really have not changed that much.
Crime, corruption, and misgovernment were rampant. Last year, homicides in Chicago approached 470. Gang violence in some neighborhoods is a constant occurrence. The city has strict gun laws, but shootings in poor neighborhoods are a regular event. Public schools are in deplorable condition, with the teachers union promising a protracted strike later in the year, the second such strike during Rahm’s five years in office. City finances are a dreadful mess, and the city’s public school budget is out of balance by nearly $500 million. It hopes the money can be provided by state government, but if the state legislature is not forthcoming 5,000 teachers are going to have to be laid off by Thanksgiving. The city’s pensions are unfunded and now comes Chicago’s crisis with its police force. There are demonstrations almost around the clock, and an aide to the mayor was roughed up when he attended services for one of the cops’ recent victims.
What is to be done? On the face of it things look pretty hopeless. Chicago has been a big government town for years. Charter schools would supply one answer for the education chaos, but the city’s education bureaucrats fudge the statistics so it is hard to say what is going on in the schools, and the corruption of its bureaucrats is almost equaled by the corruption of some of its charter systems. In October Rahm’s handpicked public schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in kickbacks (which is probably only the tip of the iceberg). Now under pressure from the Chicago Teachers Union 42 of 50 aldermen are in favor of calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The good news is that there is substantial support among the citizens for expanding charter schools and choice in education in general. That is about all that can be said for Chicago.
Will the local activists get Rahm’s scalp? Well, Rahm, why did you choose to run for mayor in the first place? Since you were elected and then reelected things have only gotten worse. You were recognized in the Obama White House, where you served as chief of staff, as a fixer. Chicago’s problems defy a political fix. I have looked the city over and I have a solution. Why not relieve the pressure on the cops, the activists, and the poor neighborhoods and quit? Go back to Wall Street. You made $18 million there in two years. Stay four and make $36 million. Get a house in the Hamptons. Continue your holidays in Cuba—that is where you were when the most recent police crisis broke out. Actually Cuba is a very good place for a Chicago Democrat to get fresh ideas on how to govern Chicago. You cannot get more government solutions to urban problems than in Cuba.