Great, then let's begin with the city's dismal financial condition. It is the linchpin to the city's success or failure. None of the problems facing Chicago, such as education and crime, will be solved until the city's budget is under control. And perhaps not even then, considering how Chicago has been plunged into the financial abyss by Mayor Richard Daley and the City Council.
No need to repeat the gory, indisputable details, such as how the city's nearly $15 billion IOU to its workers' pension fund dwarfs its $6 billion annual budget. Or how the city's pension contributions will increase dramatically, along with property taxes, if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a new state pension "reform" law. Economists call the city's financial problems "structural," meaning that even without recession the city still would be faltering.
Because it's the city's No. 1 problem, candidates already should be jumping on it.
Their solutions should be immediate and realistic. They have to be creative, because, Lord knows, the old ways haven't worked. They must be disciplined, acknowledging the years of steady sacrifice required to climb out of the swamp. And the solution must be independent, by which I mean that it must acknowledge that indulging the various bloodsuckers feeding on the city budget no longer can be tolerated, whatever the political cost.
A scan of the candidates' Web sites and their presentations at a University of Illinois at Chicago forum depressingly indicates that for some candidates it's not even an issue.Carol Moseley Braun, the ex-senator, prattles on about "bringing people together." C'mon senator, the Age of Aquarius was decades ago. As for Danny Davis, the West Side congressman, well, you wonder how someone who can't organize a decent Web site can be trusted with running the nation's third-largest city.
Emanuel gets somewhat more specific, going after the obvious need for making city
garbage collection more efficient (but apparently eschewing one-man trucks). Improving wellness programs for city employees, thereby reducing city health-care costs, appears to be the focus of his "plan for fiscal sustainability." He makes some good points about tax increment financing, Daley's behind-the-curtain scheme that drains oodles of cash from the city budget.
Gery Chico, Daley's former chief of staff and school board head, may still be contemplating how to fix the budget because if he knows, he seems to be keeping it to himself. For City Clerk Miguel del Valle, the city's fiscal problems don't appear to be among his five biggest issues.
Political activist William "Dock" Walls, interrupts his dream of making Chicago the nanotechnology capital of the world by promising to end city employee furlough days because balancing the budget shouldn't be done "on their backs." He says he would save money by making the employees work a 10-hour day for four days a week. He wisely advocates a pay-as-you-go spending plan to end borrowing to finance operations.
The Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, senior pastor at New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, wants a forensic audit of city government. Now we're talking. Nothing would better expel the skunks from City Hall. He admits that he can't understand the city budget after studying it for more than a month. Not his fault.
Here, my summary and omissions aren't fair to any candidate, so to get the details, go to their Web sites. There you can find their views, unfiltered. I've picked out the ideas (or lack of them) that I find most important or interesting.
What's troubling is that no candidate's ideas seem to be comprehensive or urgent enough. So far, most responses have been disappointing, failing to introduce practicality, immediacy, creativity, discipline and independence. Maybe if they pooled all their ideas, we'd be getting somewhere.
This column first appeared in the Chicago Tribune.