STEINBERG: Memo to Amazon’s founder: We’re not all like Rahm Emanuel
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Dear Jeff Bezos:
Before we begin, I have to thank you for two things. First, for all the books. Volumes I could comb 100 used book shops — back when there were used book shops — and never find.
And second, thanks for the Washington Post. I subscribe online, visit several times a day. With Donald Trump president, I would go insane if not for the Post letting loose a fact-based broadside in his direction every day.
Enough dilly-dallying — I know you billionaires hate to dilly-dally. The country is abuzz about Amazon’s competition for your new second headquarters — dubbed mellifluously “HQ2,” a reminder of just how wrong “Tronc” really is. Some 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment go with it. Quite the prize.
My inclination would be to not interfere. But this paper reported Friday that our mayor has been courting you, directly, and I thought I had better step up quickly and say something before he completely wrecks our chances. Let me assure you; Chicagoans are not all like Rahm Emanuel — in fact, it’s just him. I’ve seen our mayor turn on what he considers charm: a high-pressure, in-your-face rattling off of statistics that prove, prove, by scientific method that the only rational decision you could make is to cave in to whatever he wants. I can just see you pressed back in your chair, eyes widening, brushing Rahm’s spittle from your cheek with one hand while the other reaches for the buzzer under your desk, thinking, “We gotta pick whichever city in the continental United States is furthest away from this guy.”
Don’t do that. Most Chicagoans are much more, ah, human. Rahm notwithstanding, Chicago certainly meets all your criteria regarding size and public transportation and universities and such.
Though criteria can send you astray. The New York Times immediately worked up a shaggy dog analysis of all the metropolitan areas in the country, dismissing Chicago based on the grim finances of the state. Which are real enough, but also rather like skipping Paris on your spring vacation because of France’s high unemployment rate.
The Times cooked their figures and came up with . . . Denver.
Have you been to Denver? It’s Cleveland, with mountains.
Finding a city based on a list of criteria evokes the classic blind men and the elephant tale, where one guy feels the trunk and declares it like a rope, another finds its side as very wall-like, another a tree. Nothing like the magnificent beast itself. Which is what Chicago is — a magnificent beast. There is more to life than tax rates and profit margins. A guy who paid $250 million for a newspaper in 2013 — the going rate today is $1 — must know that.
Sure, you can take the train to the airport from downtown Chicago for $2.25. But that isn’t the main allure. The main allure is you’re here, and your people are living their lives here. We’re a place that instills significance to whoever arrives and grabs for it. Chicago brought the world the blues, and helped birth jazz. Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama all showed up nobodies and thrived here. What did Denver give the world besides a crunchy omelet?
Although, tell you the truth, the old fable that comes to mind is not the blind men and the elephant but those old fables where the king holds a beauty pageant to find a wife and all the women of the kingdom show up. None of them ever stop and ask themselves if they want to be the king’s wife. It’s sorta assumed. So while I won’t argue that Chicago will be better off without Amazon, I will point out that Amazon got to be Amazon by squeezing every last penny out of every entity it ever worked with, and if coming here indeed brings $5 billion, then the company is probably expecting $5.1 billion in sweeteners, tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, drone landing pads and whatever. Which is another recommendation for Chicago; giving away the long-term ranch for short-term profit is a tradition here. Talk, not to our mayor, but to the savvy bankers who leased our parking meter system for a song, and your decision will be made.