When it comes to New York City comparisons, Chicagoans defensively side with their own city.
We love Chicago-style pizza, we’ll take our losing sports teams over the Yankees any day and our architecture is second to none, thank you very much.
But if you’re really in love with Chicago politics, brace yourselves.
A new progressive movement that’s swept through New York; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Jersey City, New Jersey; Oregon; and Seattle has arrived in Chicago.
What is it? The marquee example is that of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was propelled into office following a campaign pushed by the Working Families Party, or WFP, which aims for electing everybody-type candidates who vow to stick to a community-based platform.
De Blasio was adamantly against the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, and he advocated for public education and paid sick days. These positions fed into his message of “a tale of two cities” — one for the rich, one for the poor — and resonated with voters, who overwhelmingly elected de Blasio despite his being outspent.
Why do we care? Groups here like Grassroots Illinois Action have been working with WFP in recent months to borrow a template that soon will be launched in the Windy City. That means they’re looking to run candidates in Chicago communities who are going to come up from that community.
Groups here have been training on how to encourage new candidates to run and what kind of instruction to give them, including teaching them about the budget and other levers of power that would allow them to advocate once they’re inside.
Part of what was so successful in New York was that the Working Families Party ran a slate of progressives in a host of communities, all echoing the same message.
Expect an announcement in Chicago that will show major grass-roots groups and labor, such as Chicago Public Schools becoming partners with a political organization to push candidates for City Council. Expect money to be behind it.
From what I’m told, the discussion had focused primarily on electing a slate of aldermen who vow to be faithful to their community and not rubber-stamp various proposals.
The revelation in an Early & Often poll last week that Karen Lewis was leading Rahm Emanuel by 9 percentage points had some leaders ripping up organizational charts and rethinking strategy.
“There’s a lot of buzz about this race among progressives around the country. Karen Lewis is the kind of movement progressive who would excite a lot of people,” Working Families spokesman Joe Dinkin said. “There isn’t a Working Families Party in Chicago, so we don’t have any plans to endorse a candidate in this race.”
New York politics is a different animal than the Chicago machine, but one thing that’s common is the brewing resentment of a city where wealth and progress is lopsided.
Emanuel’s numbers overall are in the tank, a testament to anger that persists from some of his policies.
“I think that a progressive movement is thriving in Chicago and it comes very much out of when you close 50 schools in brown and black communities … the result is you have angry voters who are ready for change and who are looking for alternatives to the status quo. The current approaches aren’t working,” said Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Illinois Action.
“We’re hearing a very similar response wherever we go. People are fed up and they’re looking for something different. The fact that there hasn’t been a response to the violence — that it hasn’t changed the reality in so many neighborhoods, I think that’s a huge problem,” Patel said.
Violence and a lack of jobs in poor neighborhoods where schools are being closed while new construction goes up in the Loop and schools are built on the Northwest Side play into the narrative of inequality.
“We’re building ward committees with everyday people who are wanting to take back their city from elected officials who don’t care about them,” Patel said. “The city election coming up is an opportunity to really bring the kind of change you saw in New York City. That same kind of frustration is really high here in Chicago.”
The group just launched TakebackChicago.org, which will track votes of aldermen and call them out for rubber-stamping the mayor’s policies.
The big policies for Chicago? Some include reforming the way — and where — tax increment financing dollars are spent, boosting the minimum wage, tackling violence, equality in schools.
“We do have grave concerns about the policies that the mayor has put forward,” Patel said, but the group isn’t “anti-Rahm,” so to speak.
The push is meant to tackle not only the mayor but the City Council, which must vote in his policies.
Just five years ago, New York didn’t have a progressive caucus. Now it dominates the city council.
Could that happen here too? Chicago isn’t called the Second City for nothing.