by Whet Moser
Chicago has smarter corruption than L.A., Kaye said, because it's a strain of graft that gets things done rather than just lining pockets.
For better and worse, the dictatorial Daley family has been unafraid to reward friends and punish enemies and has used its power to keep the machine in line all the way down to ward heelers and block captains.
Maybe I just have my dander up because I'm 3/4 of the way through Robert Caro's The Power Broker*, and "a strain of graft that gets things done rather than just lining pockets" basically describes the entire second half of the book, but wondering "wouldn't it be nice if we had a dictatorial mayor... but an awesome one" kind of flies in the face of thousands of years of history and understanding about human nature. (via )
Depending on what you want, of course; if you have different interests, it could work out just fine. Quoth Caro: "It was no accident that most of the world's great roads--ancient and modern alike--had been associated with totalitarian regimes, that it took a great Khan to build the great roads of Asia . . . that during the four hundred years in which Rome was a republic it built relatively few major roads, its broad highways Whether or not it is true, as Moley claims, that 'pure democracy has neither the imagination, nor the energy, nor the disciplined mentality to create major improvements,' it is indisputably true that it is far easier for a totalitarian regime to take the probably unpopular decision to allocate a disproportionate share of its resources to such improvements . . . ."
In fairness to Steve Lopez, he does mention that vast swaths of Chicago are totally busted--but, well, duh. That's kind of what happens. It happened with New York under Moses, who pretty much singlehandedly destroyed the South Bronx. The will to that sort of power tends to be neglectful of the details (like "let's not wipe out functional neighborhoods") for obvious reasons. It's hard to take credit or to feel responsible for organic successes, whereas monuments speak for themselves.
It's not an entirely fair comparison, Moses vs. Daley, since the former eventually just turned into a monster in ways that Daley doesn't seem to approach (although no one realized Moses was such a monster, argues Caro, until the World's Fair clusterfuck), not to mention that the latter is, after all, democratically elected and caveat emptor. Then again, while Moses wasn't democratically elected, he was popular, so popular that even the politicians who wanted rid of the SOB had no choice but to acquiesce to his rule. Point being: when someone as knowledgeable as Ben Joravsky asks why Daley gets so many votes, I can't help but think that the abstractly logical but historically insane desire for a benevolent dictatorship might be the driving force.