Filed under: Adventures with Dave,Bringing Down the Man,City Life
When I moved to Chicago, I knew very little of the current politics that ran the city. I had heard the term alderman but had no clue that it meant “overpaid city councilperson.” I knew some of the history of Chicago politics and the name Daley was recognizable. It was the stuff that barely registers a blip outside of the city that was foreign to me.
I think my friend Karen was the first person to shed a little light. I was in awe of the beauty of Millennium Park in downtown. The cool sculptures and the amazing location was awe inspiring. Karen, though, had a little different take on the park. It turned out, Karen mentioned, that everything about the park was a slap in the face of Chicagoans. It was a huge drain on taxpayers money sitting on stolen land taken in the middle of the night by a corrupt mayor. I didn’t really believe her, though. How could an entire city sit back and allow this to happen?
I think the past couple of years in the city have given me a better understanding as to why the city ignored the entire fiasco. You see, Mayor Daley, he keeps the city running. The parks are taken care of (for the most part) and the trains run – not on time, mind you – but they run. Enough of the city either knows works for some part of the giant city bureaucracy or knows someone that does. The garbage is picked up and every once in a while an idea bubbles to the surface that makes sense (blue recycling bags? how do these people keep their jobs?).
As one of the largest cities in the world, you have to admit that being able to balance all of the basic city services is a hard task. Now try doing that while increasing revenue from non-taxpayer sources – tourism, film permits, federal and state grant money – and you obviously have a job the requires bending the rules. So that’s what has happened in Chicago and people generally seem to be OK with it.
Somewhere beneath the big happy picture, though, the foundation is rotting. As I was standing in line at the Obama Election Party, I overheard a conversation that the person next to me was having with a Chicago police officer. The civilian was mentioning how amazing it was that the mayor could pull off an event of the size and complicated nature of the Obama party. The police officer seemed to put up with it for a few minutes before airing his disagreement. He asked the lady if she knew the last time Chicago police officers received raises. He asked if she would stay in her job if she didn’t get a raise in a three year span. The lady mumbled “probably not” and turned away.
I thought this was a somewhat isolated incident, but I have a feeling more anti-Daley feelings are going to start finding their way into the public forum. A couple of days ago, just moments after the first real snow accumulation in the city, Daley announced that the city snowplows were going to cut some residential streets from their routes. The money wasn’t there to make sure all streets were clear. So, for the taxpayers living on these streets, they could be happy knowing their tax dollars would be spent clearing off main arteries, but everyone else is out of luck.
Now, the mayor wants to privatize parking meter collections. After all, we’ve privatized CTA and that has just worked… well, it hasn’t really worked at all. Instead CTA has threatened shut downs and “doomsday” scenarios to strong-arm the state and city into fare hikes and unwarranted increases in funding.
So, anyway, back to the parking meters – the mayor wants to now privatize collections at city meters. He wants to grant a 75 year contract to a company, and all that company wants in return? How about a 400% increase in parking costs starting 1/1/09 in my neighborhood? Oh, and that’s just in 2009. The price will continue to escalate at alarming rates through 2013.
The mayor thinks it’s ok though because they promise to make all meters credit card compliant… in a couple of years or so. After all, he doesn’t want folks to have to worry about carrying around almost $7 worth of quarters to park for an hour in the Loop.
The mayor has quickly forgotten what has kept him in office by large numbers – he has kept Chicagoans happy. Unplowed streets, quarterly CTA fare hikes, a +10% sales tax, increased violent murders, disgruntled police officers, and unwarranted parking meter fare hikes are no way to keep the people happy. It may not be in the next election, but I’m guessing that if this trend continues, 2016 Olympics or not, a changing of the guard will be here sooner than we though.