Chicago is home. It was for the first phase of our business lives, 1967-1981, and for the past ten years. The overall quality of life is unsurpassed by any major city in the world, and its architecture, cultural and artistic institutions, transportation, parks, restaurants, marinas, and sports teams are among the best.
Chicago has dealt successfully with the problems which plague all large urban centers from racial divisiveness, white flight, illegal immigration, deteriorating public schools, street crime, and poverty better than any other U.S. city. Chicago has enlarged its tax base, and preserved its core retail shopping centers, and has expanded its vibrant ethnic neighborhoods.
Many believe these results have been achieved because of the uniquely totalitarian nature of its one party government, and the unchallenged power of the Daley machine. Few benevolent dictators have ruled for longer and more effectively. Cronyism, corruption, special interests, pay-for-play define politics in the city, and to a lesser extent throughout the state. Prison is often the final reward for the blatant greed of Illinois governors, congressmen and Chicago aldermen.
It seems like only yesterday that the boss of bosses, Richard J. Daley, resurrected enough registered corpses to give J.F.K. the narrowest of victories. Who can forget his response to the national media when questioned about greasing the skids for his son’s bar exams – “If you don’t like it you can kiss my ass.”
Richard M. Daley has taken a much broader and more egalitarian approach than his father, tearing down the projects, beautifying the neighborhoods and substantially improving the once abysmal public school system. Like his father, he has near universal support from the business community.
He even moved his family out of the 11th Ward Bridgeport community, the epicenter of the political machine for over 50 years. While it would be difficult to imagine a more inarticulate CEO, he wields power with street savvy and much more controlled demeanor than his more famous and volatile father.
While corruption continues to plague the city council, the parks and sewers departments, and virtually all taxpayer funded construction projects, there is not set of circumstances, including an intimate relationship in broad daylight with a horse on Michigan Avenue, that could prevent the Mayor from capturing 80% of the vote.
The extraordinary Millennium Park project missed its scheduled opening by four years and exceeded budget by 300%. When Mayor Daley didn’t get support for replacing Miegs Field with a new lakefront park, he dispatched heavy equipment operators in the dark of night without approval from anyone, and destroyed the airport runways, leaving the operators of all the private, business and state owned aircraft no alternative other than to have their planes hauled out on trucks. The mayor later explained without shame or remorse that he was concerned the sixty year old city airport posed a security threat. His approval rating soared.
Close confidantes of the Daleys and their operatives have been going to jail for decades, with lots of suspicion but no taint ever directly affecting the Royal Family. The “Daley Doctrine,” simply stated – “Never, under any circumstances, recognize, aid or defend anyone who gets caught.” Had Nixon adopted this philosophy there might well have been no Watergate, resignation, or the thousands of books, movies, and careers which resulted from a petty theft and its monumental aftermath of cover-up.
As Chicago goes so goes the state, as its next largest cities, Aurora, Rockford, Peoria are distressed communities of little more than 100,000, trying to keep their declining business and commercial interest from evaporating and downstate is largely rural and agrarian. Springfield, like most state capitols, is largely irrelevant.
The recently concluded Obama miracle has thrust the city, the state, its political eccentricities onto the world stage, as our soon-to-be president grew up politically and learned to navigate in those ultra murky waters. Perhaps his passion for change and reform was simply a principled reaction to a largely unprincipled system. Throughout the presidential campaign the McCain team attempted to link Obama to the unsavory side of Illinois politics, but with no success.
As he began to assemble his team and announce his Cabinet appointments, up popped Rod Blagojevich, a two term Illinois governor, indicted for a level of corruption and greed so egregious that it made his predecessor’s transgressions look like petty misdemeanors, in spite of the fact that former Governor Ryan is in the penitentiary serving a six and a half year sentence.
It is expected that things will smell bad in the Department of Sanitation and in the management of landfills. It seemed pre-Blago that virtually everything at one time has been for sale in Illinois. But this Elvis addicted dirt bag was recorded by the U.S. Attorney and the FBI in his home and office discussing the sale of Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat to the organizations willing to pay the most in terms of cash, jobs, board seats, or some combination thereof. Already under investigation for corruption for over two years, and with an approval rating of 13%, Blago declared on tape that if unable to sell the seat for what it’s worth, he might appoint himself as Obama’s successor which would make impeaching him more difficult and allow him to resurrect his career and prepare a run for the White House in 2016.
Even in the state that gave us Dan Rostenkowski, Blago has created a whole new category of slime. In spite of the fact that for the first time in the history of Illinois politics, 100% of the state legislators, both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to vote to impeach Blago, and the Lt. Governor who hasn’t spoken to Blago in 18 months asked him to resign, along with the leaders in both houses of Congress and the president elect, Blago announce he was going to fight the political lynch mob and prevail.
Nixon and Clinton at the height of their scandals continued to have considerable support from both politicians and the general public. With the exception of his wife who also looked to benefit from the scam, Blago doesn’t have a single supporter. His chief of staff who was indicted with him resigned and is rumored to be trying to cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney. The lynch mob is looking to hang him with his own words. Notwithstanding, this is Chicago, and Blago intends to do down fighting.
There would seem to be no strategy, even with the most adept defense attorneys whom Blago has hired and intends to pay with campaign contributions (probably a felony) for him to beat the rap. There are no sure things, however, when the judgment of twelve ordinary citizens is involved, as the whole world can attest with the first O.J. Simpson verdict.
Chicago, my kind of town, has produced some of the best and worst. It borders on the tragic, thirty days prior to the inauguration of one of the most extraordinary young men to ever enter government service, that he should have to compete with his polar opposite. Perhaps the mob, long an integral, proactive and responsive partner of Illinois politics, will make Blago an offer he can’t refuse.