What a year 2013 was! School cuts and closings, broken promises, public offices treated like heirlooms, handouts to rich guys, a rubber-stamp City Council—and, amid it all, god-awful baseball on both sides of town. In other words, a typical year in Chicago.
But some feats stood out more than others, and so, once again, we feel it's just and appropriate to bestow our annual awards for achievement in local politics. We apologize to the many other deserving candidates who didn't take home the gold this year—though we're confident you'll get your chance again in 2014.
So without further ado . . .
THE VITO CORLEONE AWARD . . .
for being out of sight when the hit you ordered is carried out: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was off skiing in Utah when Chicago Public Schools officials announced that they were closing 50 schools.
Runner-up: Mayor Emanuel, who was out of the country on another vacation when the Board of Education made about $256 million in additional budget cuts from regular public schools—while increasing funding for charter schools by $80 million.
THE MAYOR DALEY AWARD . . .
for the politician who best exhibits Mayor Daley's approach to public service: former Mayor Daley, who offered a vivid reminder of what his tenure was like when, during a deposition that the Sun-Times brought to light this fall, he claimed to know nothing about how his appointees gave the Park Grill a lucrative sweetheart deal—or even how Millennium Park was constructed. "I don't know what I knew," Daley said, which answered a lot of questions.
THE JEAN-CLAUDE BRIZARD AWARD . . .
for being an amiable face for the mayor's cruel education policies: Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who replaced Brizard as the head of CPS after Emanuel fired him, just in time to put a smile on closing schools and gutting the budget.
THE FREDDIE THE FREELOADER "WHERE'S MINE?" AWARD . . .
for taking public money that might otherwise go to the public schools: DePaul University, which is angling for tens of millions of tax increment financing dollars to build a basketball arena in the South Loop.
THE MILTON FRIEDMAN "MAYBE THERE'S A FREE LUNCH" AWARD . . .
for not letting free-market economic principles get in the way of taking public handouts: the University of Chicago, which scooped up about $20 million in TIF money for its 53rd Street redevelopment deal.
THE PROFESSOR IRWIN COREY AWARD . . .
for opining as if you're the foremost authority on something you know nothing about: U.S. senator Mark Kirk, who vowed to curb crime in Chicago by arresting 18,000 people who may or may not have been members of the Gangster Disciples—and may or may not have been guilty of anything. "I would like to do a mass pickup of them and put them all in the Thomson Correctional Facility," Kirk told Fox Chicago. Enough said.
THE BACK TO THE FUTURE AWARD . . .
for reliving the 80s: Chief circuit court judge Tim Evans and Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, who've been feuding since 1983, when Preckwinkle first challenged Evans for alderman of the 4th Ward. She finally beat him on her third try, in 1991, and more than two decades later they're trading shots over who's responsible for dangerous overcrowding at the county jail.
THE GLORIA GAYNOR "I WILL SURVIVE" AWARD . . .
for not crumbling or lying down and dying when everyone wrote you off: Governor Pat Quinn, who's been mocked, dismissed, and ignored since taking over after Rod Blagojevich was impeached in 2009. Now, after other top Democrats dropped out of the 2014 race and legislators rammed through a pension reform bill, he can hold his head up high until Election Day next November—and maybe beyond.
Runner-up: Blackhawks great Bobby Hull, who remains very much alive even though Mayor Emanuel erroneously said he was "looking down" from above. Bobby, you're still the Golden Jet!
THE DONALD TRUMP AWARD . . .
for always threatening to run for office but never actually doing so: Bill Daley, who abandoned a bid for governor for the third time since 2002 while insisting that he would have been the best candidate for the job. So far he has not demanded to see Pat Quinn's birth certificate.
THE MITT ROMNEY AWARD . . .
for pretending to be an average Joe when you're actually a gazillionaire who has so many homes it's hard to keep track of them all: Bruce Rauner, Republican candidate for governor, who's running ads depicting himself as a man of the people even though he brought in $53 million last year from his hedge fund operation and owns at least eight properties, including a waterfront villa in Florida, a condo in an upscale Utah ski resort, a penthouse in New York City, and ranches in Montana and Wyoming. Also, Rauner may have made calls to powerful friends to get his daughter into elite, public, selective-enrollment Walter Payton College Prep.
THE DAN QUAYLE "I'M PRACTICALLY JACK KENNEDY" AWARD . . .
for comparing oneself to a political icon with a substantially different track record: the ten reliable Emanuel supporters who call themselves the Paul Douglas Alliance, so named for the politically courageous former alderman and U.S. senator who was a great maverick. Please, aldermen—let Senator Douglas rest in peace.
THE TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK AND THEN GIVE HER YOUR JOB AWARD . . .
for a brazen display of nepotism: Richard Mell, longtime advocate of the patronage system, who resigned as 33rd Ward alderman in the middle of his tenth term, then proudly watched as Mayor Emanuel determined that Mell's daughter, Deb, was the best person to succeed him.
THE "FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON ME, FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON ME AGAIN" AWARD . . .
for doing precisely what you said you'd learned to avoid at all costs: the City Council, which locked the parking meter deal in place after spending the last four years admitting it was a disastrous mistake. On the upside, 11 aldermen voted against the latest incarnation of the deal, more than double the five who voted no in the first round. That's progress in Chicago.
THE "BILL GATES DIDN'T E-MAIL ME BACK" AWARD . . .
for computer science and innovation: President Obama, who campaigned on a promise to bring modern technology to American government, but was unable to find anyone who could launch a freaking website that's critical to the country's health care system and his own legacy.
THE STILL LOSERS, THOUGH NOT ALWAYS LOVABLE AWARD . . .
for managing to finish last once again: the Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, who—after a year of wheeling and dealing with Mayor Emanuel and Governor Quinn—still ended up with a less lucrative tax-break deal than Jerry Reinsdorf's White Sox. Along the way, they forgot to sign a major-league team for the 2014 season.