Now that the International Olympic Committee has saved us from ourselves and Mayor Daley's Olympic dreams have been dashed (one more time: thank you, thank you, IOC!), let's have a little chat, Chicagoans. Just amongst ourselves.
What the hell were we thinking? Have we lost our freaking minds?
I won't burden you with another diatribe about what was at stake. The bottom line is that we signed on to a multibillion-dollar train wreck that likely would have closed off the lakefront for at least a few years, chewed up our parks, diverted millions of desperately needed dollars from our schools, grown our budget deficits, and left ordinary Chicagoans with little to show for it except the hard-to-measure satisfaction of having thrown a big party.
I'll concede that hosting the Olympics would have created jobs in the tourist and construction industries. But exactly how many and how long they'd last was up for debate—the result of conflicting projections put together by various eggheads with spreadsheets.
Now that it's over, the slant in the media, even the New York Times, is that our city's in mourning. Mourning? Are you kidding me? If the past polls are any indication, most Chicagoans are relieved, if not jubilant.
As I mentioned last week, according to a September Chicago Tribune poll, 84 percent of the population didn't want to pay for the games. Ten to twelve thousand people showed up for Friday's planned victory celebration in the Loop, and hardly anyone bothered to come out for the gala in Washington Park. Compare that with the tens of thousands who attended the official celebrations when the White Sox and Bulls won their championships, or when Barack Obama was elected president last November.
I don't think the city's ever been so exposed or let down by its leaders. There was no check, no balance, no countervailing force. All the major power sources in the city fell in line and went along—without asking questions—as this scheme was shoved down our throats.
And that brings me to the biggest problem of all: our own culpability in this lunacy.
Chicagoans, it's time you look yourselves in the mirror and ask, Why am I so afraid? And of what, exactly?
I don't just mean the so-called regular citizens who keep voting for the same old clowns year after year after year. I'm talking about the civic, corporate, and political titans—aldermen, editorial board members, state legislators, congressman, big-money lawyers, CEOs, and so forth—who cheered while the emperor paraded about naked.
I know from conversations with many of these civic leaders that they didn't even want Chicago to end up with the games. And yet they went along, presumably in fear of upsetting Richie Daley.
You know what? He's not Attila the Hun—his power is not all consuming. Last I looked this is still technically a democracy. Please, everyone, take a page from the IOC. The next time Mayor Daley trots out some harebrained scheme, don't be a wimp. Just say no.
The Republicans Pile On (Finally)
I was raised by a couple of New Deal Democrats who grew up in the Great Depression worshipping FDR. I know I must have voted for at least one Republican or another in my life, though at the moment I can't remember when.
So it's been bizarre, to say the least, to see right-wing Republicans like Michelle Malkin using my columns to attack President Obama for his support of the Olympic bid and his ties to Mayor Daley's machine. Some of them have even started to criticize Chicago's tax increment financing program, which, as regular readers know, is supposed to use rising property taxes to spur development but has turned into a mayoral slush fund.
True, President Obama linked himself to Daley's Chicago when he flew to Copenhagen to push for the games. (I told you not to go, Mr. President, but no, you wouldn't listen.)
But still, Republicans, what took you so long? I mean, I've been offering ammo against Mayor Daley and his corrupt machine for years and I can't remember any Republicans ever taking me up on it. The fact is that most Republicans work very well with the mayor. The lone Republican in the City Council—41st Ward alderman Brian Doherty—is a consistent Daley supporter. He voted for the parking meter deal and the Olympic blank check. The next TIF he opposes will be his first.
Patrick Ryan, the retired AON chief picked by Daley to run the Olympic 2016 committee, is one of the most generous GOP contributors in Illinois. Over the last nine years, he's donated about $2.7 million to the state Republican Party. He also donated $100,000 to Mayor Daley's reelection campaign in 2006.
And Mayor Daley and former president George W. Bush are practically bosom buddies. Bush turned on the federal tap for the multibillion-dollar expansion of O'Hare Airport, one of the biggest mayoral money pits of all. In 2006, Bush came to Chicago to celebrate his 60th birthday with Daley at the Firehouse Restaurant, one of the mayor's favorite haunts.
Perhaps the Bush/Daley alliance was rooted in some sort of psychological connection that only the sons of powerful politicians can truly understand. Maybe it stemmed from the appreciation Bush felt for William Daley, the mayor's brother and Al Gore's presidential campaign manager, who counseled Gore to throw in the towel early in the 2000 Florida recount. Or perhaps President Bush came to like Mayor Daley after he locked up all those protesters (and dozens of others unlucky enough to walk past them) who took to the city's streets when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
But now the Republicans have turned on Daley and I think it's more than a coincidence. Bashing Obama for his ties to Daley fits right in with beating him up over Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, or those mythical death panels we heard so much about during this summer's health care debates. They're throwing everything they have at Obama and hoping something sticks.
Don't get me wrong—it's about time they started knocking Daley around a bit. But let's see how Alderman Doherty votes on the next TIF.Ben Joravsky discusses his stories weekly with Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/theworks.