A lot of people talk stuff about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Some have gone so far as to label him Mayor 1 percent. And I get it. When you look at Emanuel’s $30 million campaign war chest, when you watch his commercials about his version of what he’s done over the last four years, when you watch the investment in Chicago’s downtown versus the disinvestment in Chicago’s south and west sides, and when you watch the city’s move to privatize even more city services, I am just as irate as anybody, scared even, when reflecting on what the future holds for me, mines and the communities that I hold most dear. And while I use this pulpit of the pen as a way to vent my truth, the pragmatist in me, in an effort to find solutions, starts to whisper in my ear facts that I simply can’t ignore … and he sounds like this:
Most people want to be rich, yet almost everybody is on the lookout for a short cut to get there.
Most people want fairness, yet most people interact with one another believing that the other will willingly take advantage of them.
Most people believe there is no substitute for hard work, yet most people try their damnedest to limit how hard they themselves have to actually work.
A whole lot of people say they hate Rahm, but who out here, of the populace or of the existing candidates, has put together a strong enough campaign and policy positions to beat him?
The results of Tuesday’s election will put the rhetoric to rest, and whoever wins the seat of mayor, along with that of alderman, city clerk and city treasurer, will have a temporary mandate to legislate in a way that they believe makes the most sense for both the present and future of Chicago.
And therein lies the rub.
In the year 2015, what exactly makes the most sense for the present and future of Chicago and every community that exists therein? What policies will support the most people in attaining a decent quality of life? And should a person’s quality of life even be the next man or woman’s concern?
In Chicago, we revere ‘Bosses’ because we revel in the thought of being “gangster” enough to take down our enemies while being both resourceful and talented enough to get the job done. In a town that is as gangster as they come, the boss has to be fair, has to take care of the family, and has to have the strength and organizational fortitude to uphold the law whenever it’s threatened. Taking care of those who take care of you, which translates into rewarding the people who put in the work to help create an environment that sustains us all, is an expected end when a Boss is in charge. If you’re not getting taken care of, the prevailing thought is that you must not be putting in the work. And if you are putting in the work, but not getting ahead, then you must be on the wrong team. And, well, unfortunately, that just sucks for you.
So let’s take a moment to examine this team called Chicago. In a meeting with one of the city’s corporate leaders, this African American man lamented that, while the city is a playing field on which people are making more money than ever before, those who live outside of the central business districts are losing ground just as fast. A lack of blue-collar employment opportunities have increased the rate of violence, while the number of broken homes and big media’s frenzy to provide inexpensive and, oftentimes, brain-numbing entertainment has increased the level of ignorance regarding life sustaining matters to what feels like an all time high.
Pensions due to government employees are threatening to bankrupt both the city and state, while the privatization of public services is driving up costs for citizens while simultaneously providing shrinking wages and benefits to its employees. On our ever-evolving journey to becoming a global city, we are following world trends that are forcing more and more people outside city limits simply because they can’t afford to continue to live here. Corporations suck the life out of almost every thing that they touch in efforts to produce the highest return for investors and rainmakers, and elected officials, the people’s first line of defense against such corporate domination, find themselves uncomfortably on the payroll of the very institutions that they were designed to keep in check.
We’ve come to a point in our existence where people of all shades and economic pedigree have a choice to make. Continue to avoid tackling the tough issues while employing a “me first’” strategy, or buckle down, work hard, and hold themselves and their neighbors accountable for the actions and policies that will either lead to our ruin or to our rescue. And yes, even in the face of world conglomerates that seem hell bent on breaking the backs of everyone else, “the people” still have to decide if truth, justice and liberty for all are ideals that are still worth fighting for. This February’s election is not the end all to be all, but it is a wonderful litmus test for any and everybody that’s paying attention. Chicago’s elected officials need to have the intellect, the energy and the clout, both domestically and internationally, to take this city down whatever path that they and their closest allies choose. The question is which direction will they choose.
The answer, interestingly enough, depends on how much energy, intellect and community clout that Chicagoans choose to flex at the polls. Depending on voter turnout, the title of my next political piece might be, “What’s wrong with us?”