by Ben Joravsky
Just in case anyone forgot who really runs things in this town, the Sun-Times appeared on my front porch on Wednesday—hand delivered, as always—with a picture of a recent gathering at Gibsons steakhouse.
Needless to say, I was not in the photo.
It showed instead an assortment of power brokers that included former Mayor Daley, his son Patrick, White Sox/Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and, my main man, Mayor Emanuel.
Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. After two years in office, it looks like the big boys are letting you sit at the grown-ups' table.
I can only imagine the table talk as the night wore on and the red wine flowed. But if Mayor Emanuel's recent behavior is any indication, I wouldn't be surprised if Mayor Daley gave him a tip or two about how to run Chicago.
'Cause in the past few days, Mayor Emanuel's been running his plays straight from the Mayor Daley playbook, especially the chapter on tax increment financing.
In particular, I'm referring to Mayor Emanuel's recent proposal to spend $60 million in TIF money on a new selective-enrollment high school on the north side—which already has three such operations.
Mayor Emanuel was not always so deft in doling out the dough. During his first two years in office he proclaimed that financial apocalypse, left over from Mayor Daley, required him to shutter mental health clinics, close schools, fire city employees (generally, south- and west-siders), and farm out relatively good-paying union teacher jobs to the lower-paying, nonunionized charters.
While supporting tax breaks for the wealthy.
All in the name of reform.
Well, I guess Mayor Emanuel's through with his reform era 'cause he's starting to throw money around like it's confetti. And just on the eve of his re-election campaign—how convenient!
Perhaps it dawned on someone really smart in City Hall that it might not be easy to run for re-election on a platform of closing schools and firing teachers, even with the help of Chicagoland, CNN's eight-part Mayor Rahm infomercial.
By the way, I've got to give a shout-out to Tribune investigative reporter Bill Ruthhart for his insightful expose of the behind-the-scenes interaction between the mayor's office and Chicagoland's producers. It should be required reading, Chicago.
Anyway, by dispersing money from the TIF slush fund on the eve of an election, the mayor's killing at least two birds with one stone.
He's obligating those funds to projects that people will have a harder time objecting to—i.e., the construction of new schools. As opposed to obligating them to things that everyone should be protesting, like the construction of a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena.
By dedicating TIF funds to build a new school, the mayor also prevents the firefighters', police, and teachers' unions from demanding to use TIF money to pay off the pension obligations.
Thus he gets to continuing saying he can only solve the pension crisis by cutting pension payments and jacking up property taxes. Of course, raising taxes, in turn, gives him more TIF slush to spend.
Very slick move, Mr. Mayor. I am genuinely impressed.
In addition, the new school enables him to throw yet another bone to his north-side base.
And so it was that yesterday he held a press conference to announce he was spending $60 million in TIF funds to build the Barack Obama College Preparatory High School near Halsted and Division on the near-north side where the Cabrini-Green complex used to be. The school's scheduled to open in 2017.
Actually, this would be at least the fourth school-bone the mayor's tossed to the north side in the last few months. There was the addition at Lincoln grammar school and the addition to Payton high school and the addition to Coonley elementary.
I realize there's a handful of geeks in town who will tell you that spending TIF money on schools is an unwarranted expenditure since the program's intended to seed the development of projects that generate new property taxes. And schools pay no property taxes.
Still, as the last New Deal Democrat still living in Chicago, I love it when the mayor spends money on public schools. So forget the geeks—right, Mr. Mayor?
On the other hand, he claims money's tight. And a well-managed city should be asking itself whether we should continue to build new schools if we can't adequately fund the ones we already have.
And if we are going to build new schools, why continue to build them on the north side?
But that sounds like more namby-pamby talk from a TIF geek. And as Mayor Daley may have told Mayor Rahm—no one gives a shit about them.
Actually, I think Mayor Emanuel probably figured that out on his own.
In the meantime, I suggest south- and west-siders move to the north side. In the age of Mayor Rahm, it's the land of milk and honey.