Now that we've cleansed ourselves of all the why questions about
Mayor Richard M. Daley's retirement, we can get on to the serious stuff.
No, not the question who will follow Daley, but what will be follow.
The "who" question will certainly have something to do with the "what"
question; just as surely as it mattered that Daley occupied City Hall's
fifth floor office instead of say, Cook County Clerk David Orr.
But it's been so long that a municipal election in Chicago has meant
anything that it's necessary to state the obvious: Issues matter.
Chicagoans should start with what they want to see happen to the city,
then they should decide which candidate would do it. All the punditry
about who has the strongest ward organization or who can raise the most
campaign money amounts to some much sports reporting. Talking about
issues is boring, but someone's got to do it.
So, in all modesty, here's my post-Daley agenda for the next mayor:
- Fight corruption. No explanation needed.
- Sunset city government. No kidding. The existence of every last
function, every last department, every last employee has to be
justified. As if Chicago was starting all over. Ald. Scott Waguespack
(32nd) has a good idea: a forensic audit of where the money goes. But it
doesn't go far enough. If we can't find a reason for this or that
creature lurking in a dark corner of City Hall, then shut it down. By a
- Privatize most of the rest. All the talk about streamlining city
government is useless because it will never happen under the current
patronage form of government. (Yes, I know that political patronage is
technically illegal, but....) The parking meter fiasco doesn't argue
against privatizing, in only argues for doing it right. Start by
contracting out garbage collection to one-man trucks, like it's done in
- Beef up the cops. What you save from privatization, pour into the
police department, which is hundreds of officers short of what it should
- Neutralize public employee unions. Once upon a time, it was illegal
for public employees to strike. Go to Springfield for state legislation
that would loosen the grip that the unions have on public policy by
scaring the wits out of people with images of mountains of garbage
piling up in allies or by threats of interrupted bus service, school or
- Truly reform the schools. Take a clue from Sen. James Meeks
(D-Chicago) and give every child and his family a real choice in
education. Vouchers for anyone who wants them. Make it easier for
competent schools to enter the competitive market.
- Tax reform. Start with a complete compilation of every single tax
that Chicago imposes and then examine its impact on individuals,
families and businesses. For example, get rid of the loathsome head tax
that drives business out of Chicago. Take a comprehensive look at how
badly Chicago gouges its visitors, a factor that weighs against
Chicago's strength as a convention center.
- End the TIF boondoggle. No tax reform would be complete without
returning TIF districts to their true purpose. It's robbing schools and
other local governments of hundreds of millions of dollars and proving
to be an enticement for useless projects, such as the "postponed"
transit center under Block 37.
- Get transportation priorities right. First step: Halt the wasteful
and useless attempt to expand O'Hare International Airport. Other
cost-effective and safer alternatives are available for improving
O'Hare, without gouging airline passengers, taxpayers and the airlines
for Daley's overwrought expansion. Keep it up and United and American
will find better locations for their hubs. Fight to spend transportation
money on mass transit that otherwise is planned for that high-speed
rail fantasia. Get on board the more cost-effective south suburban
airport, which was the consensus solution until Daley stepped in to
block it. Rebuild the lakefront Meigs Field.
- Restore regionalism. Daley dealt it a deathblow with his blind
insistence on O'Hare expansion at the expense of its neighbors. It will
take years to restore the trust that had been growing in the interlude
between the all-consuming provincialism of the two Mayor Daleys.
- Commit to democracy and a balance of power. Yes, it might be
messier, as we discovered during the debate over building WalMarts in
Chicago. A democracy is our chosen form of government. That presumes
that the City Council will want to act like a democracy.
That's enough for now.
This column also appeared in The Chicago Daily Observer