Strung out on crack, or, mayoral elections Chicago-style

The Chicago mayoral elections are on Tuesday, and the election race has been going on ever since we moved here. Back in September, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that he would not be standing for re-election after serving for what will have been 22 years. And his father, Richard J. Daley, did 21 years before. Anyway, I can’t make out whether coming up with a third middle initial was just too tricky for the family, but they seem to have decided to be nice and let someone else have a go at playing with the city for a while.

So there are four proper candidates and two hopeless candidates, and to avoid a run-off election and an even longer campaign, one candidate needs to win more than 50% of the vote.  Obviously, we don’t actually live in Chicago – we’re in Evanston – and anyway we aren’t US citizens so we can’t vote.  But I’ve always been an election junkie and I finally got my hit this week by remembering to watch the last of six televised mayoral debates.

So, first of all there’s Rahm Emanuel.  Everyone thinks he’s going to win, nobody likes him, everyone thinks he’s got too much money and ego, and one of his opponents – William ‘Dock’ Walls III – is known only for trying to get him off the ballot paper for not having been resident in Chicago during the qualifying period. Why? Because he was off in DC boosting his ego being Obama’s chief of staff.  He is missing the top joint of his right finger, which apparently got injured by a meat slicer when he was a teenager and became infected when he went swimming in Lake Michigan.  (Are you getting a sense of how incisive the political analysis in this post is going to be yet?)  Whatever you think of him, he seems to be the only candidate with both charisma and credibility.

Then there’s Carol Moseley Braun, who provided the best soundbite of the campaign when she accused the second irrelevant candidate,  Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, of having spent years strung out on crack in a cult – see the YouTube clip.  Seems the truth is more that Ms Watkins occasionally took cocaine in her youth and is a keen Christian, but that’s a bit less soundbitey.  Apart from that Braun is a waffler, and can’t really make the fact that she’s a woman (which she likes to remind you of) outweigh that.   Her desperate closing cry at the debate was that the people of Chicago should take inspiration from the revolution in Egypt and choose reform and open government.  Thanks for that, Carol.

Third, there is Gery Chico.  He is a man who screams boring, from his beige suit to his proposal to resolve every controversial issue through meetings, negotiations and debates.  He also seemed to be on a bet to see how many members of his close family he could invoke in relation to political issues, or just anyway.  I’m convinced he said ‘I have a granddaughter’ as a stand-alone comment at one point.

Then finally there is Miguel del Valle, who I felt rather sorry for. His strategy is to repeat ‘neighborhood’ a lot.  But, to be honest, it didn’t make up for his fumbling, inarticulate naivete on every topic.  He’s the kind of guy who believes in ‘people not politicians’ and ‘let’s eliminate committees’.  His big idea for solving the city’s financial problems was to make some non-profits pay water rates. Only if they were big non-profits, though.

The major issues for Chicago, as far as I can glean, are mainly financial: the hole in the pension fund, the need to attract employers, the question of various taxes and clawing back revenue from the state of Illinois.  Schools and public safety are big talking-points too.

But enough of complex problems that will take me more than ten minutes to understand.  Should Chicago get a land-based casino? It’s currently OK to gamble on a boat on the river, but not on dry land.  All the candidates are now saying there should be a new casino, though Miguel del Valle is saying it through gritted teeth and hoping only nasty tourists would go.  Then, what about trash collection routes? It appears reform is urgently needed and the new mayor will be the one to do it.

The Rahm residency debacle has taught me one thing I didn’t know about Chicago: that city workers such as firefighters and police officers are legally required to live within the city limits.  Carol Braun, being her usual tactless self, said the requirement couldn’t be lifted, no matter how much the police/fire people might want to move to Evanston to be closer to the epicentre of all things suburban (I paraphrase slightly) because the city needed the tax dollars.  Rahm said that all these guys were not only great public servants but very important to churches and Little League baseball, which was a timely reminder of how to pull American heartstrings. It’s sort of a strange idea to me, but Mayor Daley says cities that have removed similar requirements have lived to regret it as the middle classes flee to the distant suburbs and the inner cities get emptier and scarier.

And then there was the heartwarming side of the debate, after all the mudslinging, the stuff that makes me glad to be (almost) in Chicago and not Arizona.  Did you know that Chicago is a sanctuary city, and that what this means is that city officials are forbidden to help the federal government remove illegal immigrants, and that the city offers public services to everyone, legal or illegal?  It seems sort of crazy to have this sort of formal non-co-operation going on, but still it was nice to hear all the candidates saying they wanted to keep Chicago a sanctuary.  Then they were all keen on gun control, right out of step with the American mainstream, but in a continuation of Mayor Daley’s determination to enact a city ban on guns, which keeps getting struck down by the Supreme Court.  In fact, as far as I can make out, all six candidates are leftwingers.

If only I could vote…


About scepticalexpat

British 30something wannabe academic, moving to Chicago for three years in August 2010.
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6 Responses to Strung out on crack, or, mayoral elections Chicago-style

  1. Expat Mum says:

    I just can’t wait to hear all the shit that’s going to hit the fan once Daley is out of office. I know at least one family member of his who’s on the City payroll. Chicago is terrible for ghost payrollees and nepotism and he’s always managed to keep his image clean.

    I do agree with Rahm about City employees being reminded that they actually work for us and that tax dollars are not their personal bank balances. A lot of them have such a sense of entitlement that they should all be fired and rehired on their merits. The corruption in spending is unbelievable too.
    Carole MB should be ashamed to show her face in this race. Patricia VPW was right when she asked her where on earth she’d been for the last 20 years. (Running a business into bankruptcy). Braun was accused (can’t remember if found guilty) of moving a lot of her mother’s money into her own account so that her mother could receive government aid. Nice!

  2. Expat Mum says:

    PS. I once did a post about Chicago corruption on my Expat Mum blog. 4 of the last 8 governors have been criminally indicted. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

    • Yes – in fact I was conscious I ought to say something about the corruption, but it all seems to be so labyrinthine I’m not sure I even want to start trying to understand the whole history of it. But I’ll check out your post!

      Do you get a vote, expat mum?

  3. awindram says:

    A little off-topic as it’s nothing to do with Chicago, but there’s a great essay called “A Rake’s Progress” by Matt Labash that you can find in in “The Best American Essay 2010”. It’s a profile of Marion Barry, the former mayor of D.C. Really makes for fascinating reading.

  4. awindram says:

    Oh here’s that essay on Barry –

    I think it must have been your post title (mayoral elections and being struck out on crack) that made me immediately think of Marion Barry.

    • Wow. They have some amazing characters in city politics over here. And crack… M saw someone smoking crack on the El a few weeks ago. Thanks very much for the article link – a great read.

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