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Chicago’s next mayor will lead a great, and tragic, city

Visitors to Millennium Park — home to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, more commonly known as "The Bean" — flock to take photos there. | Sun-Times file photo

A tour bus stopped on Adams Street and Michigan Avenue right across from the Art Institute and a group of about 30 highly excited people speaking a foreign language disembarked and began lining up on the sidewalk to pose for a photograph.

I smiled. The Art Institute was the backdrop. Nice photo op.

Wrong. The foreigners began pointing skyward…at a sign on a pole above their heads. This is where historic Route 66 begins, the sign announced.

OPINION

The tourists boarded the bus as quickly as they had gotten off and it drove off. And another bus took its place within seconds, with another load of foreign-speaking people eager to get their pictures taken.

This is Chicago. One of the greatest places in the world.

Many months later, a family on vacation from out of state arrived in the suburbs, looking for something to do. Someone suggested the Art Institute.

“I’m not going into Chicago,” the father said. “I would rather go to Afghanistan than Chicago. I would feel safer there.”

That too is Chicago.

The first black woman mayor will be responsible for all of it. I will not judge her, at least not yet.

I judged Richard M. Daley, the son of the great mayor, many years ago. That was back when he was the mayor spending millions of dollars to build a new park right next to Grant Park, a giant public park that often seemed neglected.

Millennium Park was a silly idea. A waste of money, I said. And then I saw these two idiotic monoliths, spitting water on a cement walkway along Michigan Avenue, obviously intended to lure children to their deaths in the summer.

In addition, there was a giant bean sculpture. A work of art?

I remember my brilliant insights every time the network TV cameras are in town and show large crowds of tourists gathered around The Bean, taking selfies.

Each summer, I make sure to stop by the fountains at Millennium Park to watch children gleefully splashing around in the water, as their smiling parents watch and ordinary people stroll through the gardens.

That is Chicago.

So are the lines of police cars that seem to block traffic on the expressways every morning, as investigators look for the casings of bullets that have been fired into someone’s car.

Chicago is a great city. The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, the Willis Tower, Buckingham Fountain and the amazing skyline attract thousands of people from all over the world.

But Chicago is also a public school system where children are sexually assaulted. It’s a city where thousands of children have been neglected for decades. No one cared if they were getting a second-rate education. There were other priorities, like making money.

Teachers blamed parents, administrators and school boards for the sorry state of the schools. They were right.

Parents blamed the teachers, crumbling school buildings, outdated text books and city officials. They too were right.

In the meantime, more and more children became drug addicts. More and more children were homeless. More and more children ended up in prison. They were the lucky ones. Some of their best friends were shot just because they lived in Chicago.

Police blamed the parents, elected officials and the media.

Parents blamed police, the media and elected officials.

Nobody ever felt the need to really do anything about this stuff. But everyone agrees children shouldn’t have to dodge bullets, schools ought to really educate and people ought to feel safe walking neighborhood streets.

The next mayor will blame someone for all of this because someone is always deserving of blame.

It’s a great city. It’s tragic that those who are murdered get more sympathy than the living dead.

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