Maybe we’re going about this wrong.
Last week, as you know, Rahm Emanuel realized his mayoralty is upside down in a ditch, wheels spinning, so he decided to take his ball and go home.
And this enormous crew of marginal figures, cranks, has-beens, and perennial candidates leaps up and announces, in turn, that each is just the person to run what is still the nation’s third largest city. It’s like that scene where the Oklahoma territory is opened for settlement; somebody fires a gun and all these buckboards and horseback riders go racing across the border in a cloud of dust.
I won’t list them all.
Some blame belongs to the media, including my own beloved Sun-Times. We pass the time recounting tales of Willie Wilson handing out cash here, William “Dock” Walls making his fourth bid there (I actually agree with Walls about something, when he says of his fellow arrivistes, “They have no clue what’s needed.” His only omission — omnia vanitas — is not including himself in the magic circle).
All good fun. I get it. Ringling Brothers went out of business, and the employment opportunities for clowns is severely limited. That’s sad. But what’s needed now is not to indulge egomaniacs, but to find someone who can address the enormous, city-killing problems facing Chicago.
Since this column tops out at 719 words, I’ll limit myself to the top two problems.
First, violence in general and the cops in particular. Violence not only rips apart lives, but drives away the investment that the city needs to thrive. And cops, besides killing innocent people all too often, cost the city $500 million we don’t have over the past 15 years in settlements and judgments.
Here, I hate to say it, but Garry McCarthy has a definite edge. Not for any experience in his four and a half years as superintendent, which amounted to saying “Yes Mr. Mayor” twice a day into the telephone. But the CPD rank and file already really, really hate him, which gives him a certain freedom to act. What ruined Rahm is that when the Laquan McDonald video became known, he had already passed through his reform-the-police phase of his attempt to lead and had drifted into the try-to-be-pals-with-cops phase, and if handing the mom who popped up a paycheck kept the video out of sight, all the better.
We need a mayor who is going to act on the scathing Justice Department indictment of the Chicago police, and who’ll implement change while she stops her ears to the we-can’t-do-our-jobs-unless-we-can-glibly-trample-human-rights-without-any-supervision-or-consequence shriek the force will put up.
Did I say “she”? Giving the game away. Because the second huge problem is our $28 billion pension debt, like an atomic bomb sitting wedged under the Picasso, big LED readout counting down the seconds until Chicago is fiscally gutted and becomes one vast tottering pension fund that also puts out fires.
I really thought Rahm was going to do it; he seemed the arm-twisting, finger jabbing, get-it-done guy and, to his credit, he really tried.
This is where she — Toni Preckwinkle — comes in. She hasn’t announced she’s running, yet, but I’m hoping she will, and not abandon us, because the alternate is too gruesome to contemplate. She’s our best hope, not only because she has run Cook County for eight years, and is an adult, but because of the soda tax fiasco, which everybody, including myself, held against her as an unpopular decision, which it was.
But guess what? Unpopular decisions must be made before this pension problem goes away, simple because the problem — money the city doesn’t have promised to thousands of ex-employees — can’t be solved without people being hurt, either by a) higher taxes or b) fewer services. We need a mayor who’ll make hard choices.
Whew. The end looms, and here we’ve barely begun. There will be time to sing her praises later. Preckwinkle should clear the field, sending the mice scurrying back to their holes. If you noticed, I’m trying not to specifically name the various flash-in-the-pan candidates. It feels cruel, like ridiculing the artwork of a kindergartener (“You call that a sun, Timmy?”) We have months of fun ahead of us, and I for one couldn’t be happier, well, unless of course Carol Moseley Braun were to jump into the race. That is my dream.