Next Tuesday is primary election day in Chicago, with voters who go to the polls in abysmally low numbers to electing both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates for the fall. But in Chicago, as for a hundred years, the event is more an exercise in deciding who is least likely to go to jail.
The most important race of the day is for Governor. On the Republican side, with incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner, a multi-millionaire former hedge fund manager expected to win on the Republican side, and Billionaire Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, who earned his billions the old fashion way, by inheriting it, expected to win on the Democratic side, mostly because he’s spent more money than anyone on advertising, and has the support of what’s left of the old Cook County Democratic Machine.
In the last primary election for governor, in 2014, only about 20 percent of the approximately one million registered voters in Chicago turned out to vote. This one should be even less. That’s because people have been beaten down for so long in Illinois by politicians that they can’t see the point of voting anymore. They figure that regardless of whether they vote or not, the system is rigged, their taxes will get raised, politicians and contractors will get rich, the city will still have high crime, the streets will be like oatmeal and the weather bad, no matter what they do.
It’s been that way for 100 years. In the 1920s Al Capone ran the city with Bill Thompson asking him what he should do. For 20 years under Boss Richard J. Daley everyone knew he would always win and do what he wanted, and then his son Richie, who ran Chicago for another 20 years, loaded the city up on crushing debt raising taxes at every turn, and issued the still smarting gut-punch to the city by selling all the parking meters for 75 years to a hedge fund where his nephew worked, then spent the $2 billion he got for the meters within two years.
Everybody knows the city council is merely a rubber stamp for the mayor, except when Harold Washington, the only black mayor, was in office, because everyone knows the aldermen just want their fair share of the public trough for their city contractors and their heirs. Every so often a U.S. Attorney will come in and pluck bodies out of the trough, like the current investigations into the City Clerk’s office selling employment for $10,000, and the Assessor giving tax breaks to the rich, but mostly everybody connected remains happy and wealthy, because that’s the way the city works, and always will, like the sewage system as long as it doesn’t back up and smell too bad.
Rauner was the first multi-millionaire who made his millions before he got into politics. He first got elected because he talked reform and people actually thought he might start tossing sleazy pols out of Springfield and bring fiscal responsibility as he promised. But then when he got to Springfield, he soon found out that the real power there, as has been for 34 years, is wily Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, friend of the unions, lover of taxes in any form, who rules with an iron hand.
Illinois is in deep shit financially, but that doesn’t seem to bother the politicians. Their latest act of massive stupidity was pushing through the wonderful pensions for state and city workers, firemen, policemen, teachers and the like, and now, with declining tax revenues must fund those pension obligations by law, which means less to go around for things like schools.
Currently, in Chicago, for each dollar raised in property taxes, 70 cents must go to pension obligations for state and city employees. That means only 30 cents for the schools, which were supposed to get the whole dollar.
People in Chicago and Illinois accept public corruption like they do the bad weather, and with the same expectation – none – that something can be done about it. One person once remarked, “Chicago is the only place where corruption is legal.” And people believe it. Four governors in the past 30 years have gone on to early retirement in federal prison.
In this current governor’s race, Rauner has remained unscathed by corruption, but he did manage to unearth some good sleaze on his opponent Pritzker, getting the Chicago Tribune – The World’s Greatest Newspaper – to catch and release the FBI tapes that sank Governor Rod Blagojevich for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected President.
Roughly eight days after the Presidential election, Pritzker, a good friend and contributor to the Obama campaign – his sister Penny would go on to be Secretary of Commerce – had called Gov. Blagojevich and planted the seed of what he was going to do with the now empty senate seat, which apparently Rod had not thought of before. When they were done, all kinds of names came up, Rod said he had to think of his family, and the next thing we knew Rod was headed for federal prison in Colorado.
But in this election, Pritzker has had to profusely apologize to the black community, because on the call to Rod he mentioned a possible black candidate for the Obama seat as being “the least objectionable.” After that bit of information hit the papers, one never saw a billionaire so beg for forgiveness on the South and West Sides of the city.
The unearthing of the Blagojevich FBI tapes by the Tribune to trash a rival was reminiscent of the time Obama himself was running for U.S. Senator in Illinois and was behind by 10 points in the polls for the March primary to a rich hedge fund manager. Obama’s then campaign manager and future hatchet man David Axelrod, a former Tribune reporter, had his pals at the Trib unearth the divorce papers of his opponent, whose poll numbers dropped faster than a body off the Sears Tower, paving the way to an Obama landslide. Axelrod did the same against their Republican Senate opponent, who had taken his former wife to a sex club. The rest is history.
But that’s Chicago politics. As Alderman Paddy Bauler said in early 1950s in the days of Richard J., “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.” And in 2018, ready or not, it wasn’t getting any.