Though plenty of atrocities occurred elsewhere this year, King Richard II and his court did their part to uphold our atrocious local traditions. Look at the leadership role Daley played in honoring the Chicago police officers and firefighters who went to New York to pitch in following the devastation of September 11. Listen to the words of praise he had for all our police and fire personnel. But don't notice that, after nearly three years of stalling, he still hasn't given those noble public servants their union contracts. Words are cheap; contracts are about money. We have better things to do with our money--like donate it to the owners of the Chicago Bears. And why not? It enriches the McCaskeys and mucks up the lakefront at the same time. This is what's called Chicagonomics, or the science of political atrocities, and King Richard offered us many lessons in it this year.
Economics 101: Socialism for the Rich
Richard II and George I got together to come up with $63 million in "incentives" to get the Boeing Corporation to move to Chicago--though no manufacturing or other industrial jobs will be gained. Instead, some 500 suits will be headquartered here, about half of them moving from Seattle. That's $126,000 per suit. The spinmeisters say that ultimately there will be economic benefits--just as they once told of the millions in benefits the city would get from a world's fair. And so the owners of 100 N. Riverside Plaza got a tenant for 12 floors of their building, and a condo developer sold a $2 million unit to the CEO of Boeing. Here's all you really have to know about economics: When government gives your tax dollars to a corporation it's called an incentive. When a corporate official gives money to a government official it's called a bribe. When government gives money to poor people it's called socialism.
Economics 102: Socialism for the Crony
Jane Byrne invented Taste of Chicago back in 1980 to showcase the city's ethnic and fine-dining eateries. Ever since, a spot at the fest has meant big bucks for any restaurant fortunate enough to be selected. This year Richard II decided to showcase the haute cuisine of another little dining find--McDonald's, the first national chain to be represented at the Taste. More big bucks for the Big Mac came when the firm landed a multimillion-dollar concession at O'Hare airport. King Richard declaimed that none of this had anything to do with the fact that McDonald's retains Jeremiah Joyce, the mayor's political guru, as its consultant. Joyce also served as consultant to a firm that landed a duty-free-shop concession at O'Hare, and the two firms reportedly paid him $1.8 million last year. The mayor reassured us that the contracts were decided on merit alone. "I'm not here to turn anyone into millionaires," he declared. The same Joyce also bought up land in Peotone--just in case Daley relented and let a new airport be built out there. "If you really believe in this," Daley said of the proposed site last January, "go buy 100 acres of land." This is called an incentive to be a friend of Richard II.
Theology 101: Devine Intervention
State's attorney Richard Devine came up with a program of biblical forgiveness this year for men who claimed they'd been tortured into making confessions by former police commander Jon Burge and his henchmen. All they had to do, Devine suggested, was plead guilty and drop the accusations against the police, and they could eventually be let back on the street. Meaning: plead guilty even if you're innocent, and go free even if you're guilty--as long as you drop the torture charges. Although federal judge Milton Shadur says it's "common knowledge" that Burge and his men were involved in torturing confessions out of people, Devine says that hasn't been proved. He'd rather sweep the charges under the rug than investigate further. By the way, Devine was first assistant state's attorney under Richard M. Daley when they convicted some of the guys who allegedly confessed under torture. Later, when Devine was in private practice, his law firm represented Burge, and Devine appeared in court on his behalf. To forgive is Devine.
Theology 102: Dissing Da Deity?
Long before September 11 there were incessant complaints about delays at O'Hare airport. King Richard looked to the heavens for the answer: "The chronic delays is weather! I mean, you cannot blame God! I'm not here to criticize God."
Gender Studies 101: Love Thy Fellow Woman
A cluster of female aldermen rose up in July to complain that they're being shortchanged when it comes to leadership positions in the City Council. "Women make up almost 35 percent of this council, and in leadership roles we're less than 8 percent," said one after the mayor passed over all of the women aldermen and appointed three men to head committees. "I love women," the mayor reassured us. Just not enough to make more of them chairmen.
Health Care 101: Eat Your Green Stuff
King Richard assured the common folk that the green substance found in our streets in mid-October was merely avocado, not anthrax. "Guacamole is not dangerous," he reassured us. "It is good for you." This is not to be interpreted as a play for the Mexican-American vote.
Cartography 101: Giving Tillman the Finger
It's been an atrocity-ridden year for Third Ward alderman Dorothy Tillman. First, singer Lou Rawls pulled his money out of a controversial cultural center in Bronzeville that's being sponsored by Tillman. The alderman mysteriously dropped Rawls's name from the project, which she'd been promoting as a tribute to him. Next, a couple of white waiters from the Palmer House sued the hotel for racial discrimination because Tillman had demanded that they be replaced by black waiters at her fund-raiser there. Finally, her fellow black mapmakers drew her ire for giving her a ward that, though predominantly African-American, included parts of racially hostile Bridgeport. "It's post-traumatic-slavery syndrome," Tillman said of the minority cartographers. The ward they drew for her looked somewhat like a fist with an erect middle finger. The latter portion included the ancestral home of both mayors Daley, where the incumbent's mother still resides.
Cartography 102: Murphy's Minstrel Show
Two years ago Irish-American alderman Thomas Murphy of the 18th Ward was mapped out of an 80 percent black ward, but he moved and won there anyway because of an overwhelming white turnout and a widely split African-American population. This time around, minority mapmakers gave him back a bunch of white precincts, perhaps to compensate for the earlier rebuff. A few months ago he petitioned to join the council's black caucus, since, after all, he represents black people. In the past even liberal aldermen such as Leon Despres who represented predominantly black wards never made such a presumptuous request. Murphy was denied membership. You could say he was whiteballed.
History 101: Stonewalled
Last January 50th Ward alderman Bernard Stone appeared as a character witness on behalf of Bruno Caruso, an official being tossed out of the Laborers Union because of alleged ties to the mob. Despite his 27 years in office and close friendship with the late felonious alderman Fred Roti, Stone seems to need a refresher course in Chicago history. According to the prosecutor in the case, Stone testified that he did "not know whether organized crime exists."
Spanish 101: Los Egomaniacs
The census showed a huge growth in the city's Latino population, suggesting that a new map might provide them a few more wards. Last June onetime civil rights activist Dorothy Tillman, perhaps fearful of losing her seat to a Latino, came up with a unique interpretation of the federal Voting Rights Act: though not a lawyer, she opined that the law was not meant to provide relief for "language minority groups." No? Her colleague 30th Ward alderman Michael Wojcik offered a more democratic, if constitutionally questionable, solution: just add a few more wards so that all of the sitting aldermen could keep their seats. Especially him, since he's at the epicenter of Hispanic population growth. Carumba! Why didn't Tillman think of that?
Ethics 101: Truth in Politics
Some people think politicians tend to shade the truth. But two elected officials recently became models of candor--inspired, perhaps, by the example of 42nd Ward alderman Burton Natarus, who launched a stage-acting career by taking on the role of "a grouchy old man." Soon after, 34th Ward alderman Carrie Austin moaned, "A lot of people call us rubber stamps, and in some ways we are." Even more straightforward was State Representative Shirley Jones, who eschews all the phony collegial rhetoric legislators mouth at each other. Angered last spring by a legislative leader who ignored her effort to be heard on an amendment, she advised him, "The next time it happens I'm coming up there to whup your ass!"
Music 101: Lou's Blues
Close friends were deeply distressed to learn that State Representative Louis Lang ended his yearlong campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor. Of course only his close friends even knew he was running.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.