Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why Somebody, Anybody, Needs to Run for Mayor

This Salon article nicely sums up some of the most significant issues with the current mayor. I  appreciate that Salon has a national audience, and this article can play a role in a media counter-offensive that will hopefully arise post-Time cover.

But can I say . . . I’ve had enough of articles that list the numerous crimes of the current mayor, than almost as an aside point out he has no challenger, in any sense of the word.  How can he be losing control when every single thing he proposes happens-when at least half of the city council immediately says everything he proposes is great-and most of the other half votes for it anyway? Yes, I know it’s stating the obvious but the fact is that he can’t be voted out unless somebody else runs. And no local politician is going to do it. There is simply no upside for any aspiring politician to run against a nasty, power-hungry, politically-connected-on-a-national-scale incumbent. In another city, you know where they have TWO parties; you might have an aspiring Republican try to make a name for him/herself by running for a mayor. But the dirty secret, which the Salon article alludes to, is that for all intents and purposes the mayor IS a Republican who has been pushing policies that do not differ from a standard Republican platform. This, coupled with policies that are nothing short of direct hand-outs to various corporate interests, means that the moneyed elites have no need for anybody else.

It has been the usual suspects that have complained the loudest, and have promoted #OneTermMayor. But, the fact is, this mayor has not given anything to anybody who didn’t already have something. What’s more, what he’s given to the 1% has come directly from the 99%, whether it be public school funds to charter schools, TIF funds (that would otherwise go to schools) to corporations who are already here, or just setting up an office, or auctioning off city assets in perpetuity to private corporations. There may be large projects worthy of closing public schools, but building a stadium for a private school is not one of them. More recently, it’s come out that the city negotiated a billboard deal appears to give up more then 600 million dollars for an immediate fifteen million. Fifteen million? Really? That’s pocket change available from any TIF district fund.

The sheer mismanagement of the city, in terms of policy and finances should outrage everybody. Whether you though schools should be closed or not, the process that went down should have upset you. There are examples of urban education reform that don't involve mayoral control-they usually everybody involved talking to each other, and working with each other. I have yet to hear anybody but absolute lackeys praise anything the mayor has done or proposed (Depaul, Navy Pier, etc.), nothing he's suggested/implemented can be described as a positive economic policy for most of the city.

Perhaps the most offensive part of the current mayor’s rule is the complete lack of accountability. Put together a proposal for reevaluating TIF districts? Yes, and then completely ignore it. Closing 50 schools, time to go on vacation! Firing 800+ people-go overseas! The mayor can and does push every crazy-ass idea that he thinks up; save for a handful of aldermen, nobody pushes back. Why can he do this? Because he knows nobody will run against him-he doesn’t care about being liked, in fact he takes pride in being "tough". Funny how being tough is always against popular interests, actual people, as opposed to corporate interests. As long as core group of people with a lot of money support him, coupled with just enough white people who don’t like unions and actually think he wants to do the best for the general population he’s good.

So for those of us who do not want to see every last part of the city auctioned off, to see every decent job traded for a crappy, minimum wage one, what to do? The most logical thing is to pick out a dozen or so wards with bad alderman-which would be almost all of them-for whom a strong candidate can be fielded. And by strong candidate I mean anybody who’s committed and is willing to articulate a basic vision which could be:

1) open the TIFs-no more
2) No large-scale projects without independent, outside cost-benefit analysis
3) elected school board
4) community-driven police accountability board

A solid, motivated candidate should be able to get at least 30% of the vote, with strong voter registration drives it could go up to 40-50%. In addition having a mayoral candidate, who would not have significant financial resources almost by definition, could run an effective campaign coordinating with a reform slate of aldermen. Such a candidate probably, however, couldn't win. So, why bother?

Well for sure, some of aldermen challengers could win, which would be where the real fight would be, but if there is no mayoral race all the mayor's money will go to sitting aldermen, making those fights that much harder.

But there is a larger purpose as well, it's clear the mayor lives in a Romney-like bubble, having an election where 30-45% of the public demonstrates in a real kind of way-with numbers-that there is substantial opposition to his policies could be helpful. It would weaken in as a potential candidate for anything else-a big city mayor who can only capture a fraction of the minority vote is not taken seriously in Democratic circles. More importantly, such a show of opposition, and it could empower some aldermen to oppose him more. It's not even obvious that the mayor is capable of actually campaigning-that is can he operate out of the sealed environment he lives in? Anything that could force him out, make him respond to the consequences of his actions, would be helpful.

Who is going to do this? Obviously CTU is trying to do this, where they are in the process is anybody's guess. But for this to happen it needs to be all interested parties-progressive groups such as the Greens, but also civic groups as well, like I stated before the number of people coming out ahead under the mayor is low. It should be a large coalition, and we don't have to agree on everything all the time, but the points I articulated are broad enough that most people could support.

The larger fight needs to be on creating structures outside of politics that encourage democratic participation to make the city work for us, or not be in at all, depending on the topic. In the meantime we have to fight to keep what should be properly public stay public. We need to look at changing the structure of city government, to create a genuine system of open, transparent processes that the people have some input on-that is not dependent on who the mayor is.

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