by Ben Joravsky
You may not realize this, but the mayor frequently makes impromptu drop-ins at firehouses. Generally, to tell the firefighters that as much as he loves them—for risking their lives rescuing people from burning buildings and all—he's going to cut their pensions.
You'd have to be Professor Freud to figure out what the mayor's trying to prove by going out of his way to passive-aggressively taunt a room filled with city workers who, for all the obvious reasons, can't talk back.
Not unless they want to get transferred to a firehouse in Outer Mongolia.
As far as I know, firefighters never did anything to Mayor Rahm. Other than endorse Gery Chico in last year's mayoral election.
Oh, wait, I'm starting to understand . . .
For the record, the mayor's proud of his firehouse visits. In fact, when reporters ask him why he reserves so much of his official schedule for meetings with gazillionaires looking to trade campaign contributions for city business, the mayor usually says something like:
"What the official schedule doesn't tell you is that I'm always dropping in on firefighters . . ."
Yeah, to talk shit to them.
Now that I think about it, wouldn't it be nice if the mayor treated gazillionaires like he treats firefighters?
"I'm sorry, Mr. Developer, but I am just randomly dropping in on your luxurious penthouse suite here to tell you that as much as I love your sharp-looking suit, I've decided we can't afford to give you a $30 million TIF handout for your office skyscraper in that blighted, undeveloped community known as River North. What with our schools broke and everything."
Hey, a fellow can dream, can't he?
As you might imagine, the firefighters rarely say what they feel when the mayor starts in with his I-love-you-man-but-I'm-gonna-have-to-cut-your-pensions spiels.
But on November 20, one firefighter—Sam Holloway—actually spoke his mind.
"This was just two days before Thanksgiving at six in the evening," says Holloway. "The mayor shows up unannounced—right at dinnertime—with his bodyguards. And he starts in about 'Your pension is in trouble.' And 'There's no easy solutions.' And 'We're going to make some hard choices.' And so on.
"His tone is not directly confrontational or smearing. His approach is, 'We've got to do something to save this for you.' It's like, please put your hand on this knife with which I'm about to eviscerate you.
"Ordinarily, I'm not a troublemaker. But I tend to be less diplomatic. And we all know it's the city who screwed this up. It was the city—not the firefighters—who played games with the pension money. We made our payments to the pension fund—they took it right out of our checks. And it irritates me to hear him talk about sacrifices and hard choices when it's us, not him, making the sacrifices."
So . . .
"I told him, instead of cutting pensions, why not institute a transaction tax on the Board of Trade or the Chicago Mercantile Exchange?"
"He's like, 'We're a leader in that industry. That's why people come here.' Whatever that means.
"I said, 'I'm not talking about taking away their summer homes in Aspen or their Bentleys. Only a tiny transaction tax.' And then one of my colleagues says, 'Yeah, we're not talking about a huge amount.'"
And how did the mayor react to that?
"He didn't yell, but he got tense. He said, 'I don't support that. If you go to Springfield, you won't find anyone who supports that. If you support it, you should run for office.'"
Yeah, good luck making the ballot, Sam.
Actually, not to quarrel with the mayor. But he may have exaggerated the opposition to a transaction tax. There were 28 state reps and nine state senators who voted against the multimillion-dollar tax break the mayor supported for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
I'm not saying that's enough support to pass a transaction tax. But there's at least a foundation of backing to build on—should the mayor ever decide to be a real Democrat.
As opposed to a Mitt Romney one.
"I know he's not going to change his mind," says Sam. "The idea that you can actually tax these pricks is not something he's going to do. Better to cut the pensions of retired firefighters."
For confirmation, I talked to another firefighter—call him Ringo—who witnessed the great firehouse debate.
"It happened just the way Sam said it did," said Ringo.
I admire Holloway's courage for speaking up. If he gets transferred to a firehouse in Outer Mongolia, we'll know who to blame.