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Build That Screw

The 115-story curling spire proposed for the Chicago lakefront could hardly be more befitting of the city. After all, what could be a better symbol of the Daley Administration than a giant screw?

The only element missing from the sublime design is an impaled taxpayer on top.

Let New Yorkers have their Freedom Tower. We'll take the Screw, a monument to the Chicago Way.

Just as the Daley Center perfectly reflects the old man's administration - a hulking, ugly, but functional building housing his beloved city workers - the Screw perfectly reflects the current Daley administration: a developer's hotel-condo complex with no regard for its neighbors, shrouded in public hype and potential private gain for the pinstripe patronage posse. It will take clout to get the project built, but hire the right lawyers and consultants, change the building materials to wrought-iron and asphalt, promise free blue-bags to tenants, and hire the right lawyers and consultants (did I say that already?), and we're sitting on a winner.

Even better, make the Screw a tourist attraction featuring a Chicago Way Museum. Let your imagination run free: framed favors lists on the walls, animatrons making deals, and an interactive hall where visitors could pretend they are dead people interviewing for city jobs. Better yet, collect the mayor's string of half-hearted ethics reforms for an exhibition to be titled The Appearance of Reform. Federal grand juries could meet there too. A re-creation of an Oxford, Wisconsin, cell block could house the convicted.

The Screw's lobby should feature a plaque from Time magazine for its recent naming of Daley as the nation's best mayor. Daley, the magazine said, "has presided over the city's transition from graying hub to vibrant boomtown, with a newly renovated football stadium, an ebbing murder rate, a new downtown park, a noticeable expansion of green space and a skyline thick with construction cranes."

Much like the plaque in baseball's Hall of Fame that Pete Rose deserves, though, Daley's plaque should include the truth.

That renovated football stadium: an example of how to by-pass public debate, like a dry run for The Midnight Raid on Meigs Field (if only Lee Marvin had lived long enough to star in the epic Hollywood version, in which our hero exploits 9/11 to execute his personal whim), and an ugly but apt symbol of the mayor's stubbornness in the face of impassioned but wholly reasonable arguments to stop the madness once the design was circulated.

That ebbing murder rate: don't forget to mention that the murder rate had to rise to the nation's highest on his watch until he could make it ebb.

That new downtown park: you spent $475 million and all you got was this? Those millions of visitors stand as a tribute to the Daley propaganda machine. Because, when you stop to think about it, how do they know how many folks visit the park? I don't see any turnstiles there. And just how many tourists wouldn't have come to Chicago if the park wasn't there? Is it really that much of a difference-maker? (Not to mention that, contrary to Time's assertion, Daley didn't simply "persuade" the private sector to help fund the park out of the goodness of their corporate hearts. When things went sour, they had to bail him out! It was a Don't Embarrass the Mayor Fund Drive. And it was hardly civic virtue that motivated the private sector. It was a naming rights program. The sponsors got their names plastered on nearly every blade of grass there.)

That whole beautification thing: when people say the city looks great, we know what they really mean. Downtown, and specifically North Michigan Avenue, looks great. And so do the neighborhoods that are demographically correct. Those that aren't will be soon. It's not that the city as a whole has been transformed, except insofar as the forces of gentrification have been unleashed by this administration to run amuck and strip Chicago of its history, character, and identity. Besides that, if we wanted a beautification mayor, we'd hire Martha Stewart. (Now that she's an ex-con, she'd actually be a viable candidate here.) Beautification is nearly always cited as the mayor's top achievement, but has this really been the city's most burning issue? That the city was ugly, and voters have kept sweeping Richard Daley into office in order to make things pretty?

Besides, big cities across America "came back" in the 1990s. They've all been beautified - Denver, Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Kansas City - hell, there are even lofts in downtown Houston. Houston!

So let's not be so parochial as to think flowers only grow on Chicago streets.

The Screw and its Chicago Way Museum should also have a media wing. After all, this mayor brags that he's the most accessible mayor in America. And he's right. No mayor makes himself available to the media so often in order to evade their questions. Everybody knows that.

The Hired Truck wing could be named after Angelo Torres. Visitors could enter a booth, put on headphones, and finally learn who hired the former gang member to run the Hired Truck program. Once they leave the booth, though, they will forget they were ever there.

And in videotaped interviews, the mayor's "message team" could reminisce about how easy it was to buffalo Chicago's oh-so-tough press corps, simply by using low-grade leaks, planted anonymous quotes from people close to the mayor, and all-around stonewalling. Hell, it's so easy David Axelrod has plenty of time to devote to the rest of his client roster.

Finally, let's include an exhibit of the 2007 mayoral race, which could turn out to be the most telling commentary on this administration, given that, regardless of who runs, the top issue is likely to be cleaning up the corrupt mess in City Hall. A good government mayoral campaign in Chicago! And if the next campaign is about good government, that sort of indicates that the last administration has been about bad government.

Build that Screw.


Originally published in limited editions of Rich Miller's Capitol Fax.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 26, 2006

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