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Feast to famine

Just last year Chicago had billions for Amazon but now it’s suddenly too broke for schoolkids.

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Money for schools? Nope. Money for the world’s richest man who runs the world’s largest company? Of course! - DONKEYHOTEY
  • DonkeyHotey
  • Money for schools? Nope. Money for the world’s richest man who runs the world’s largest company? Of course!

As we head into week two of the teachers' strike, it's as good a time as any to remind you that it was only one year ago that the powers that be were making sky's-the-limit offers to woo Amazon to town—that's how rich we were in Chicago!

Ah, yes, the Amazon deal. C'mon, folks—don't act like you forgot it.

I remind you of that fiasco to highlight one of the rich ironies of life in Chicago. When it comes to hiring nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors for the poorest kids in our poorest public schools, it's "Sorry, we're broke. Our poor taxpayers don't have a dime to spare."

Isn't it funny that they're always looking out for the taxpayers when it comes to protecting us from spending money on things most of us want?

But when it comes to forking over $2.3 billion—at least—to the world's richest man who runs the world's biggest corporation, money's no problem. Party like a rock star!

In case you really did forget, let's go back to last October. Mayor Rahm and his gubernatorial sidekick Bruce Rauner—speaking of things you want to forget—offered Jeff Bezos of Amazon property tax breaks, state tax credits, untold scads of TIF dollars, and his choice of prime downtown real estate if he'd build his second headquarters here.

Actually, we don't even know how much Rahm and Rauner offered Amazon because they refused to tell us. The mayor and governor argued that if they told us how much of our tax dollars they were ready to spend on Amazon, it would enable other cities to steal our promotional ideas and use them to woo Amazon.

Like anyone in Chicago cared.

Many of the same editorial writers who say our schools are too broke to afford nurses were breathlessly urging Rahm and Rauner to spend what it takes to make Bezos happy.

Here's a sample from a 2018 Tribune editorial, which in retrospect reads like a scene from the lusty romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey . . .

"I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess was doing the merengue with some salsa moves."

Wait—that is Fifty Shades of Grey. My bad. Here's the Trib editorial . . .

"When we squeeze our eyes shut to imagine the result of Amazon's competition, we conclude Chicago should be a top contender."

In fairness to the Tribune, they weren't the only ones squeezing shut their eyes as they lusted after Amazon. The deal was endorsed by every major politician in the state—Democratic and Republican—including house speaker Michael Madigan, state senate president John Cullerton, and Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle.

I mention this just in case any of my brothers and sisters at my beloved Chicago Teachers Union actually believed Toni was the true-blue progressive they made her out to be in this year's mayoral election.

In defense of Lori Lightfoot, at least she didn't endorse the deal. Of course, that's because no one asked her to. Back then, Lightfoot was a relatively unknown corporate lawyer who wasn't given a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected mayor.

But if her support for Lincoln Yards and the 78 mega TIF projects is any indication, she'd probably have lusted after Amazon like all the rest of them.

Oh, I can hear the Amazon lovers now. Oh, Ben, Amazon creates jobs—it's economic development.

Oh, really, well, school nurses, social workers, librarians, and counselors—those are jobs, too.

In fact, I can make the argument that hiring nurses, librarians, and counselors would be a greater bang for our economic development buck than giving billions to Bezos. The nurses would actually have to live in Chicago (what with residency requirements). They'd shop locally, and pay property taxes, and so forth.

And by the way, while we're talking about those much-vaunted Amazon jobs . . .

Originally, Amazon promised to bring 50,000 jobs to the winning city that won the right to host its second headquarters.

And then last November, Amazon decided to split the headquarters between New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Meaning it was only 25,000 jobs per city.

Then they dropped New York, after New Yorkers started asking too many questions about what they were getting for all the money they were giving Amazon.

So now it's just Arlington. And you want to know what happened to those 25,000 jobs? Well, check out this recent story by Kimberly Adams of Marketplace.

"Thousands of people lined up for a daylong career fair on a humid, mid-September morning in Crystal City, Virginia, some showing up as early as 5:30 a.m. to be ready when the doors opened at 8 a.m.—all for a chance at a job with Amazon . . .

"But there would be no job interviews. . . . Amazon won't be hiring tens of thousands of people here anytime soon, although dozens of smiling Amazon staffers encouraged visitors to apply online for the roughly 200 jobs that were available immediately . . .

"The Career Day was more of a very public—and media-friendly—Amazon meet and greet for the region. Ardine Williams, Amazon's vice president of workforce development, pointed out the hiring for HQ2 was always going to be a slow process . . .

"'The 25,000 jobs for Arlington are scheduled for the next 10 to 12 years,'" she said, standing in front of flapping Amazon banners and the large white tent where the fair was being held. "'So that's a ramp [up] after this year of 400 of about 1,000 to 1,500 [jobs] per year.'"

So Amazon's jobs promise went from 50,000 to 25,000 to 200 to . . . the check's in the mail. One more time—thank you, Jeff Bezos—for rejecting the Rahm-Rauner offer.

Anyway, it's funny how the city's going broke, except when it's not. The same thing went down with the Olympics. About ten years ago, corporate and editorial Chicago cheered as Mayor Daley got the City Council to write a blank check to pay for the Olympics. Money being no problem when it came to our mayor's pipe dreams.

We didn't get the Olympics—the International Olympic Committee rejected Daley's proposal in 2009. But within a couple of years the same old corporate crew was telling us we were too broke to afford pensions.

So, we're too broke to make good on our obligations to retired cops, firefighters, and teachers. But not too broke to stage a spectacular pageant to our mayor's ego.

Oh, Chicago—when are you ever going to wise up?   v

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