Put away all those references to Chicago as the brawling and gritty rough house of Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and Dick Butkus. Forget Carl Sandburg‘s timeless portrayal of Chicago as “the stormy, husky, brawling, city of the big shoulders.”
more. Chicago is wimp city. A city full of obsequious voters,
businesses and civic groups that have been repeatedly swindled, scammed
and hosed by local politicians. Yet, with each betrayal, the serfs
continue to grovel before such liege lords as Mayor Richard M. Daley
and House Speaker Michael Madigan and beg for more of the same. Nothing
is egregious enough to inspire insurrection by the city and state’s
How else can you explain that their lordships repeatedly
get away with endless stunts like the one they pulled last week in
Springfield? With great fanfare, the Illinois legislature passed and Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign a “sweeping,” “first-ever” law limiting campaign contributions.
it has a loophole so gaping that Madigan and other “leaders” could
drive all 177 members of the legislature plus every patronage worker in
Springfield through it, marching shoulder to shoulder. Despite the
limits placed on campaign contributions by individuals, businesses,
unions and political action committees, the legislation allows
legislative leaders (read: Madigan) to make unlimited contributions to
candidates in general elections.
It’s a green light for Madigan
to funnel arsenals of money that he controls as the state Democratic
chairman to his candidates. It assures unending servility from grateful
candidates, and explains why few lawmakers have the guts to challenge
his arrogant and destructive dictates. Instead of limiting Madigan’s
control, it increases it. That the “leadership” would have the gall to
call something so obviously self-serving reform is stupefying.
no better in Chicago. Daley now is fighting to keep a huge national
plastics industry convention from fleeing Chicago, its 40-year home.
The show brought in $95.3 million last June, but it appears the
exhibitors are fed up with the extravagant costs they must pay to
riggers, tradesmen and other organized workers at McCormick Place.
As the trade publication Plastics News reported, Daley met Wednesday in
his office with convention officials to plead with them to stay.
problem? As trade show exhibitor Tim Hanrahan explained in the
publication, it cost $345 to get four cases of Pepsi to his booth. “The
invoice breaks down to $254 for the four cases of Pepsi, a 21 percent
service charge, and a 10.25 percent Illinois state sales tax, a 3
percent Chicago soft drink tax, a tax on the service charge and a food
and beverage tax. Government taxes totaled $38.06, which is more than
the legitimate retail price of the soft drinks,” he said. “I could go
on. A $640 TV stand rental is another good example,” he said. “But you
get the point.”
Hanrahan gets the point, but do we? For the sake
of a special interest — organized labor in this case — the body
politic seems willing to drive away business that brings dollars into
town. To finance the greed and corruption endemic here, we tolerate
punishing taxes on the very businesses we plead with to stay.
it goes. The Reader last week revealed that Daley keeps an
off-the-books budget that shows how hundreds of million of dollars are
spent in the city’s 160 tax increment finance districts. The budget’s
so secret that not even aldermen (much less citizens) get to see the
whole thing. The TIFs, without oversight or review, drain hundreds of
millions of dollars from city property tax revenues for projects that
benefit special interests. Home values drop, but assessments and taxes
go up; we shrug and ask, “What can you do?”
Chicagoans are saps.
From the embedded corruption to the insider deals; from the flouting of
anti-patronage court decisions to huge project cost overruns; from a
city budget that proposes to sell out future generations by dipping
into city assets to endless tax and fee increases, Chicagoans have
shown a tolerance of their own ruination that borders on psychosis.
corporate hierarchy is so enamored with the “stability” that Daley and
his oligarchy imposes on Chicago that it can’t see the damage being
done to its own long-term interests. The toady City Council passes in a
blink of an eye an incredibly disadvantageous (only for taxpayers)
parking meter deal, because its members are told to.
have become such pantywaists that the Roykos, Sandburgs and Algrens no
longer would recognize the place. Chicago, the city of stooped
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune