For most of the past four decades, the era of Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, Chicago basically had the same policy. That was to recruit big companies with lots of good jobs to town, beef up police to boost public safety, and try to slowly rebuild Chicago Public Schools into an institution that actually works without breaking the bank.
There were major successes. Downtown and a wide swath of neighborhoods fed by its jobs were remade into one of the urban jewels of America. Companies wanted to and did come here, bringing their pocketbooks along. The city’s overall population grew. Families with school-age children began to move back from the suburbs, at least in some neighborhoods.
But as Mayor Lori Lightfoot correctly sensed and some of us long ago reported, what really arose were two cities, because that prosperity and what comes with it bypassed much of the South and West sides. Something approaching a million people living in the central area and adjacent areas enjoyed neighborhoods as safe as Toronto. But another million and a half plus might as well have been living in Detroit.
The core of Johnson’s campaign pitch is to wholly remake that model and go in a different direction. Effectively, he wants to tax the part of Chicago’s economy that works — the airports, downtown employers, upscale shopping areas and more, a total of $800 million a year, all right out of the Chicago Teachers Union playbook — to fund new development efforts elsewhere that hopefully will curb the root causes of crime. He also wants to de-emphasize traditional policing, arguing that old policing models have failed and asserting that there is no connection between a shrunken police force and higher crime rates.
Johnson is right to argue the city can’t go back. But is risking what’s working in one part of town really the key to helping another part of the city? “Soak the rich” sounds great as part of a national campaign. But in a city that really doesn’t have that many rich people — even Johnson concedes his plans could end up soaking some CTU members — is it a viable strategy, or one that inevitably will fail and spark higher property taxes?
Vallas insists he doesn’t want to return to the old model either, that his administration would be more than a remake of Daley’s and Emanuel’s. It would involve, he argues, new initiatives, like a municipal bank to invest in neighborhoods and a police department that is out on foot on the street and on Chicago Transit Authority trains, building trust with community residents.
It sounds good. But in Vallas’ way of rolling out lots of big plans that may or may not work out, it’s hard to tell how well this would go down. For instance, how quickly could he really fill the 1,600 vacant slots in the police department, even if as in some other cities he brings back retirees for a while to help carry the load? Can he use tax-increment financing surpluses to balance his budget and to pay off some pension debt and also to boost development in needy areas, all while holding other city levies flat, as he says he hopes to do?
That’s your choice Chicago. Do we roll the dice or amend a proven but inconsistent strategy? The early voting polls are now open.
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March 27, 2023 at 08:23PM