Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It’s Not the Same Town Royko Used to Write About. City Council in Modified Revolt Against the Mayor, BanningCity Council in Modified Revolt Against the Mayor, Banning Foie Gras and Reflecting White Wine and Brie Elitist Pressures.

[This is an article I wrote some weeks ago for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly and forgot to post until now. The third and final article on Anne Burke will be published soon. Until then, read this.]

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—This is no longer the city where the late legendary columnist Mike Royko, a blue-collar, 16-inch softball playing, hard-drinking defender of the underdog, suggested substituting the city’s official motto Urbs in Horto or City in a Garden to Ubi est Mea? or Where’s Mine? The city that Royko wrote about was a town which legend spinners insist is still the real Chicago—city of the “big shoulders,” polluting manufacturing plants, Mafia gangsters and cherry-nosed aldermen who bow deferentially to a mayor named Daley for whom English appears to be a second language. Royko’s earliest memory was living above his father’s tavern and being allowed to take the tavern payoff down to the precinct police sergeant. But it isn’t the same.

Today many of the old neighborhoods have either been razed to make room for condos costing $700,000 plus. Formerly rundown four flats have been upgraded to suit information-age yuppies, affluent couples who have copme in from exurbia, liberal singles and world-weary gays who nibble on salads, jog, practice yoga and read the New York Review of Books as they sip latte coffee while deciding what to wear to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. The people who are calling the shots are (a) esoteric liberals, (b) the unions and (c) bleeding heart liberal journalists who agonize for “the poor.”

The mayor is still named Daley, a very small chip off the old block. He has forsaken his old Irish Catholic Democratic heritage. Once old man Daley—Richard J.—severely questioned a Jesuit priest who had assigned the book “Crisis in Black and White” as required reading for the mayor’s son Bill. Sis Daley objected, too. But the book was tame, a mere study of black mores. It would be boring to read now, certainly not an incitement to race war. Once pro-life and as traditionalist as his father, Richie has endorsed abortion on demand, gay rights and same-sex marriage in order to appease the near North liberals who aren’t interested in getting city jobs. Moreover, fearful of being indicted, he is under the watchful stare of an out-of-town federal prosecutor. Federal rules have been applied to the town’s hiring and firing. Therefore he fears to punish his enemies and reward his friends with either jobs or contracts, the ingredients that built the once impregnable Democratic machine.

In place of the old cry of “give a break to the workingman and his family,” the reigning appeal is to assuage celebrity minority demagogues and the high-income white denizens with trendy causes. Therefore as none other than the Associated Press put it recently, “If you’re a cell-phone-using, goose-liver, cigarette-smoking, fast-food-loving person Chicago might not be your kind of town.” Ordinances have been passed to ban all these things. But the capper is the fight over a special minimum wage hike for so-called “Big Box” employers like Wal-Mart and Target. Liberals who used to be fighters for more jobs for the poor are now trying to shove thousands of jobs out of town, with dire consequences for the poor. Wal-Mart set up a store in suburban Evergreen Park just a few blocks from Chicago that collects an estimated $530 million a year in sales from Chicagoans without a penny of sales tax going to Chicago—all the while the spot where Wal-Mart wanted to build in Chicago remains an empty lot.

When Leo XIII wrote about business’ obligation to social justice in Rerum Novarum he became known as the working man’s pope, criticizing “a small number of very rich men [who] have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke which is very little better than slavery itself”—meaning excruciatingly low wages which, Leo said, prompts a class of servitude which spurs the evil of socialism, class hated and an abhorrence of private property. He accepted the right to strike but called upon the state to reform grievances that promote strikes.

In response to eloquent demands like Leo’s, both parties have enacted laws protecting labor unions and, in fact, federally set a minimum wage level under which the union-affiliated working man and woman can be protected. There are varied arguments for and against the minimum wage: some of the nation’s most prestigious economists have said that it by itself has held back industry from providing the jobs and economic growth that help the working poor. Nevertheless the minimum wage stands. Nobody outside of conservative academia advocates its abolition these days. Instead both liberals and conservatives cry out for more jobs. It’s a no-brainer.

Emperor Daley I followed the dictum of the founder of the Democratic machine, a Czech immigrant with no religion and who could barely read, known as “Pushcart Tony” Cermak. Cermak formulated the strategy that kept Democrats in power here since 1933: hire well-qualified and, if need be, honest, people to head up city departments but staff the underside of the departments with loyal Democratic precinct workers who are given quotas for vote-delivery on election day. Every ward had a quota of jobs they were entitled to depending on how the wards performed on election day. You didn’t want to have a precinct captain either head the city planning department or police or fire. You try to hire and promote the best so there’s little or no scandal all the while the grunt work is done by the grunts who work the precincts. Every ward committeeman had his quota of jobs and that was that.

This worked under the senior Daley’s successors. Jane Byrne, the first woman mayor and Harold Washington, the first black one, were wildly improvisational, but followed the Tony Cermak formula. It has taken John Kass, a brilliant Tribune columnist, to figure out exactly what has gone wrong. To no one’s surprise, it involves politics. Byrne wanted to keep young Richie Daley, the first-born son of the old man out of power. Young Richie, a state senator, was preparing to run for Cook county state’s attorney, the main elective prosecutorial job, preparatory to running against Byrne for mayor. Fearing that Daley would find a way to prosecute her, Byrne cut a deal with Alderman Ed Burke to run against Daley in the Democratic primary. As mayor, Byrne had a lot of clout and the battle between Daley and Burke with Burke aided by Byrne was reincarnated ancient Irish clan war.

Daley won but in studying the returns, he was aghast that so much of Democratic organization had been gone for Burke. By the time he was elected mayor, Daley vowed to build a personal organization loyal to him alone. Thus he re-wrote the rulebook of old Tony Cermak. The organization was to be starved of jobs. The jobs were to go to only those loyal to Daley. The new rulebook was devised and followed in secret.

That meant politics directed from the 5th floor of City Hall, not in the wards. Underling jobs were approved by Daley’s people in the front office. But there was a basic flaw Daley and his minions didn’t see. By the old rule-book, jobs given to the wards certified that the ward politicians and the aldermen would have to be loyal to the mayor. Tony Cermak had ordained that the Democratic ward organizations had a reason to support a Democratic mayor—for jobs and privileges. Now it was not so.

Even so, the new rulebook could have worked except for Patrick Fitzgerald. The U. S. prosecutor on a white horse concentrated on City Hall as the source of all jobs and discovered the age-old never-observed ban on patronage was being discarded. The trail didn’t lead to the wards but directly to the mayor’s office. Fitzgerald exerted pressure on the mayor, interrogated him for an hour. Daley cut his politicking to the bone. He would not go to the neighborhoods to raise money for favorite aldermen. They were left alone to raise money for themselves or lose to challengers.

That meant a vacuum. Into the vacuum moved labor unions —vowing to raise money and send out foot-soldiers, legal under the law, to reelect the alderman with a proviso: the aldermen would have to do what they’re told.

That was all right with the aldermen who are used to doing what they’re told, whether it’s by Daley or the labor unions. The job of alderman pays nearly $100,000—no small change.

The aldermen’s new dependence on the unions, not the mayor, spelled a new dynamic of power in the city. Sensing Daley’s vulnerability as the feds probed him, the unions cheered. They’re not too crazy about Daley anyhow since he has fought them noisily on police and fire labor contracts, believing that the cheaper money he could get by with would hold down the need to raise taxes. As the new source for money and foot-soldiers in town, the unions craftily decided to test Daley’s strength.

The first shot in the war came on a scattering of so-called “consumer issues” which Daley abhors. As an exponent of Chicago the convention town, the tourist town, Daley wants to help hotels, restaurants and night clubs continue to appeal to the convention trade (already high union wages to build convention booths have chased some big trade shows out of town) so helping restaurants and clubs is job one.

But along came one Alderman Joe Moore, a Democratic liberal from the near North side—a new fangled liberal, member of the Democratic National Committee and a Howard Dean lefty—who introduces an ordinance to ban foie gras being served at fancy tourist restaurants. Moore agonized publicly about the pain and suffering that comes to ducks and geese forced to ingest grain in spectacular amounts to fatten up their livers. This is inhuman, says Moore, who is not at all perturbed about supporting abortion that kills unborn children.

With organized labor savoring the chance to punish Daley for past transgressions, Alderman Ed Burke, Daley’s old nemesis, has introduced an ordinance that would ban smoking inside vehicles when “small children” are riding in them. Violators would be fined $100. But what is the definition of a “small child”? Burke says the cutoff should be children under age 8. Does t hat mean it would be permissible to smoke near a kid who has just turned 8? Meanwhile Burke is crusading against restaurants serving trans-fats. He’s restricting it to restaurants owned by companies with at least $20 million in gross sales but not Kentucky Fried Chicken.

All the while the city council has been considering an ordinance to require microchips implanted in the necks of all dogs in the city so as to find them when they run away.

Now comes the coup de grace. When Leo XIII talked social justice he was concerned with the need of the unemployed poor to work without deprivation or exploitation, without a boss beating them with a stick or working them until they dropped. Wal-Mart and other “big box” stores are looking at locating in Chicago which would be a great boon to the city and its poor. Wal-Mart isn’t unionized but pays an average of $11 an hour and other big retailers will have to pay even more to attract beginning workers.

The feds’ minimum wage for union shops now stands at $5.15 an hour for unskilled workers. Jewel Foods in Chicago is unionized but its average pay is less than the average of $11 at Wal-Mart.

Basically there was no argument for penalizing the Big Boxes except for some unions and lefties to demagogue and fight Daley. But for the first time in memory, there was a union-sponsored mass march against City Hall, sparked by a demagogue white priest with blond hair, Fr. Michael Pfleger, who has been pastor of an all-black church and is regarded by his parishioners as a white Messiah, which he loves. (Pfleger has resisted being transferred and has said that if he is, he will start his own religion. Possibly other dioceses would can him and tell him to go ahead. Not the archdiocese of Chicago.

And also for the first time in memory, Daley lost a Council vote. The Council passed by vote of 35 to 14 in the Council a special minimum wage of $13 an hour by 2010 ($10 in salary and $3 in benefits) for “big box” stores with over $1 billion in sales. Daley rightly says this is a variant of “red-lining” which in the old days kept blacks out of home-buying in neighborhoods: keeping huge enterprises out of neighborhoods where poor people need the jobs they supply. Not long ago, desperate cities were striving to lure businesses by declaring low-tax and low-regulation enterprise zones. Now Chicago is beating them with a stick to get out of town.

Daley, who believes in very little, has one absolute: pro-business. He wants to encourage Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Costco and Home Depot. In this he is joined by a few hardy aldermen like Isaac Carruthers, an African American, who knows that his poor south side ward needs jobs. When Wal-Mart opened a store in the suburb of Evergreen Park, just a block of so beyond the Chicago limits, more than 27.000 applied for its 325 jobs at $ 7.25 an hour. Carruthers declared, the law “will cost black people jobs. If I put out a notice that there were 500 jobs waiting in my ward—what Wal-Mart was offering—you’d see a line of people from my ward all the way to Mississippi. People want jobs!”

Both city newspapers editorialized against the Big Box ordinance but liberal columnists they carry bleat support for the poor. Most aldermen want to protect their six-figure jobs, the unions want to punish Daley, Daley is afraid to reassert power because the feds are looking at him over the transom.

With a once machine town cowering from populist imprecations and federal prosecutors…a suddenly weakened town where the old rules on getting favors done don’t apply any more--the average working stiff from the neighborhoods—deprived of even the old-time services precinct captains could supply has a right to mourn the old days and ask Ubi est Mea? Where’s mine?

1 comment:

  1. You're right about Chicago having changed. In some ways, the tragedy of Royko's life was that he outlasted the city that gave him fame.