"For 43 of the last 56 years, some guy named Richard Daley has occupied the fifth floor office in Chicago's City Hall."
Last month, at the installation of the new White House chief of staff Bill Daley, President Obama declared the man had "public service in his DNA." What Obama actually meant was that Daley, a lobbyist and JP Morgan Chase exec who helped write NAFTA, hailed from the predatory family of wolves that have ruled Chicago for two generations and who helped launch his own career.
For 43 of the last 56 years, some guy named Richard Daley has occupied the fifth floor office in Chicago's City Hall. And now Barack Obama has enabled the wolfish Daley clan to elect its own successor, Rahm Emanuel.
In the last two decades, Chicago's property tax levies have been Jim Crowed so that revenue collected in wealthy areas is not shared with poorer ones. When combined with the pervasive residential segregation that is the U.S. norm, the so-called "tax increment financing," or TIF system pioneered in Chicago, provides an ostensibly color-blind and race-neutral way to achieve this goal, that has been imitated nationwide.
The city's public assets have been looted, leased and privatized, and its once extensive public transit system shrunken and starved for funds. Aggressive condemnation and demolition of private housing pursued almost exclusively in black areas from the 1960s onward, followed by the eradication of public housing beginning in the 1990s has driven hundreds of thousands of black residents from the city, while keeping rents and housing prices painfully high for those who remain. In 1983 Chicago was more than 42% African American. Now the percentage is under 30%.
Corporate school reform: Made in Chicago
Chicago was the testing ground for neoliberal experiments that handed dozens of schools over to the Gates and Broad Foundations for reckless experiments that crippled the education of thousands of children, and literally cost a few of them their lives. Public schools in some areas were apparently closed to facilitate gentrifying real estate speculators, and hundreds of experienced, qualified black teachers, rooted in the communites they served, were fired. Chicago public schools "CEO" Paul Vallas went on to help wreck public education in Philadelphia, and post-Katrina New Orleans, where he fired all the city's teachers and closed all the public schools to make it more difficult for poorer, blacker residents to return, and to make the place safe for profitable private charter schools and their contractors.
Paul Vallas, who had never taught a half hour in any classroom, was succeeded as Chicago Public Schools CEO by an equally unqualified Arne Duncan, a former pro basketballer who played the occasional game with then state senator Barack Obama. With the support of wealthy foundations, city Hall and the city's business elite, Duncan ignored mounting public outcry from parents and teachers to ramp up the demolition and privatization of public education. When his basketball buddy became president, Arne Duncan took the policies that wrecked public education in Chicago national as Secretary of Education.
War on Public Workers? Made in Chicago
Chicago, where Democrats have been in power forever, has seen its brand of corporate neoliberalism toward workers in the public sector become bipartisan national policy. Outgoing mayor Richard Daley last year suggested that cities and counties should simply default on their pension obligations, to see what happens, and "renegotiate," while President Obama has also declared war on the wages and benefits of public workers.
In Wisconsin, only 50 miles from downtown Chicago, the Republican governor proposes bans on financing unions via dues checkoffs, and automatic decertification elections in every local public employee union, every year. Could such a thing be possible if Democrats like the mayor of Chicago and the president hadn't already come more than half way in the same direction?
Rearranging the political landscape
In 1983, Chicagoans elected not just the city's first black mayor, but a genuine leftist reformer, with a powerful grassroots movement behind him in Harold Washington. Sadly, Washington died in his fifth year in office. The e powers that be have aggressively redesigned the city's political landscape to make the emergence of a similar movement more difficult.
Harold Washington narrowly won a three way Democratic primary election against an Irish incumbent mayor, Jane Byrne, and Richard Daley, with less than 35% of the vote. Since then the city's elite business and opinion leaders have scrapped partisan primaries for nonpartisan elections, in which the will of poor and disaffected residents can be more easily overridden by the power of big money. Candidates in Chicago used to need valid voter signatures on nominating petitions circulated by neighborhood residents. Laws were changed to let big money candidates import mercenary petition circulators from anywhere, again amplifying the power of big money over local grassroots organizing. And a quarter of the city's African American population was driven from the city in two decades by the demolition of public housing and the fact that practically nobody built any affordable rental units.
Impotence, Irrelevance of Chicago Black Leadership
What passed for the city's cohort of black leaders had learned nothing and forgotten plenty since the 1980s. Blinded by narrow nationalism and oblivious of local history or current conditions, they convened a farcical process to select a "consensus black candidate" for mayor. Among much else, they all forgot that Harold Washington (and Carol Moseley Braun in 1992 also) was elected with an overwhelming majority of Chicago's Latino vote. Lacking the vision, the skill and the will to forge ties in that direction, their efforts were doomed from the start.