The [Wednesday] Papers
Much like a banana republic whose longtime tyrant is finally departing the scene, the challenge now for Chicago is whether it can prosper without a strongman at the helm.
But it's a mistake to reduce Chicago's political culture to one man and one family. The Daleys merely mastered The Chicago Way; they didn't invent it and they certainly don't own the patent on it. The departure of Richard M. Daley as mayor doesn't change a thing except the person on top; Chicago's culture of corruption exists apart from Daley even if he corralled it to his purposes without compare.
As we speak, evil forces are conspiring in hushed, nervous and giddy tones to protect their interests; some will overreach and others will emerge with an even stronger hand. They will be a danger to us all.
The Daleys are not likely to be among them. As much as the mayor's professed love of this city is never questioned, the Daleys have always been, as Tribune columnist John Kass among others has put it, a one-way street. They demand loyalty while giving none in return; it is always about them. It was never about the city.
They will go quietly - to the naked eye at least - though we can expect to keep hearing Bill Daley's name attached to everything from Downers Grove dogcatcher to United Nations Ambassador to Mars.
But by no means does this mean that reform will arrive right here at home. Pols who never had the courage to speak up when it mattered won't have the courage to defy the entrenched interests who will put them into the mayor's chair in the first place, and those who have been independent voices - I'm talking about you with love, Scott Waguespack - don't have the broad base of support needed to ascend to the throne. Alas, too, their fundraising will be dried up like a lawn whose garden hose as a giant foot on it. Or many feet.
Harold Washington will not be allowed to happen again. Lessons were learned.
Reform is our right, but it will have to earned the hard way - and possibly never. This is how petty dictatorships work; they disembowel civic institutions from the inside out. The only way those institutions are perpetuated is through the frauds they are built on. They become too big to fail.
I'm not trying to be horribly cynical, but does anybody really think Tom Dart or John Fritchey or James Meeks or Luis Gutierrez is really going to lead a revival?
Every new list of potential candidates is as depressing as the last. We are the Cubs; the farm system only begets more Cubs.
The political culture in this city is a package; it doesn't just flow from one person. The person on top is merely the one who has best harnessed its winds like a master sailor who knows when to tack this way and when that. It's an instinct found in the best of our bullies, and that is why they succeed most grandly in a system that was ultimately built for them.
Abandon all hope? Yes, as long as (to again steal from Kass) the men (and women) behind the men (and women) remain the same. Who in our civic culture has ever really stepped up? Even our faux reformer president backed every hack the Cook County Central Committee chose to prop up. He may even send one back to us.
Is it up to the voters of the pundits' imaginations, then, to put an end to this? Please tell me me how that will work. We do not even control the balloting. Our "choices" will be pre-determined.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad to see Daley go. But the fact that he was in office for so long - and without a single serious challenger - says more about what's ahead then his exit does.
It will be ugly, grown men (and women) scrambling like rats for the last piece of cheese.
It will be entertaining, but only if you find petty dysfunctional politics an enjoyable distraction from contemplating life in a city where one in five children grows up impovershed.
It will be depressing, that's a given.
Could it possibly be hopeful? If only.
But that's not where we live. The King Rat may be retiring, but the ratmasters (and their enablers) remain. It is only if they grow a conscience and decide to change - those masters in the shadows who do the real dirty week - that we will be allowed to change as well.
Sorry to be so apocalyptic, but we live in a political sewer. One retirement isn't going to change that; the pipes themselves have to go.
* Chicagoetry: Congress Wars. In which obstructionists to a black mayor said they weren't racist.
Posted on September 8, 2010
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