My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

whose machine is this anyway?

So far this year I'm down to about two posts a month! I'm disappointed, even if nobody else out there cares very much one way or the other. My problem is not that nothing interesting is happening, it's that a lot of interesting things are happening, but it's work stuff, and I can't really blog about it. In fact, I don't really feel comfortable doing this at all during work hours. It's not so much that there's more pressure to use time at work productively (there's really not), it's politics. The nature of my employment looks like it's likely to change soon, and if it does I will offically be a public employee.

Which is great for me, but as you might have heard, there's been a lot of scandal surrounding political activity and public employment in Chicago and Cook County lately. So if I were to be working on something even vaguely political on time which is being compensated by the taxpayers would not be just shiftlessness, but illegal and in violation of the city's consent decree as well.

This is why I use a pseudonym and never discuss the department or field in which I work, which has become annoying recently because there's so much to say about it. But even so, I just don't think I can spend any of my convenient office computer time on the Web anymore, which has put a damper on my blogging.

This being Saturday, however, and me feeling sickly and having decided not to attend today's historic Michigan Avenue peace demonstration largely because it's cold and I'm being a wuss about it, I suppose I can spare some time to talk a little politics. Usually I'm fairly partisan, and not only do I know who I'm going to vote for in any given election far in advance, but I'm often actively campaigning for somebody. But this time around I'm stumped.

Tuesday morning is the Illinois Democratic primary, and the big race here is for President of the Cook County board (Board President sounds like a small time job not worthy of much thought until you realize that Cook County contains five and a half million people, roughly 42% of the state population, billions of dollars of tax revenue, and an army of patronage workers as large as any in North America). The Republican doesn't have a prayer, so whoever wins the primary wins the seat - or that's what I would have told you last week, anyway. But events have conspired to make things a bit more interesting.

The race pits longtime encumbent board president John Stroger against up and coming political operative Forrest Claypool. Stroger is one of the most powerful men in the state, and although the political hiring scandals that are spreading like wildfire across the prarie state have so far not reached his doorstep, all these guys who are getting indicted basically work for him, as he's on of the leaders of what they used to call the Machine - the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. So reformers and Goo-Goos ("good government" advocates) are basically after his hide. In addition to my suspicion that machine politics leads to a bit of waste and inefficiency (although perhaps not as much as you'd assume) I have a bit of a personal grudge against Stroger - his determination to tear down the old Cook County Hospital building, mostly to improve the view of its replacement, which Stroger built and named Stroger Hospital. Since the old building is a classic which developers would like to turn into really nice condos, and the new one looks like a toddler built it out of glass blocks and random pieces of metal junk, I oppose this plan. Fortunately, most of the rest of the board agrees with me and the demolition is on hold while they examine offers to buy the building.

On the other hand. things have gotten quite a bit better in Chicago and Cook County while Stroger's been in charge. Crime and poverty are down, and at least some schools have improved a little. This weeks Economist magazine contains a special section touting Chicago as a success story and a possible model for reversing urban decline in the Rust Belt. So if taking out the trash is the standard by which officeholders are measured, Stroger's had a pretty good tenure.

Claypool, on the other hand, is running as a reformer, and has said everything the Goo-Goos want to hear. Transparency, accountability, etc. In theory I am in favor of these things. On the other hand, Claypool was Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff at one point, so how independent and reformist can he really be? In addition, while he's widely respected for fixing things at the Park District when he was in charge, I've heard people complain that he was virulently anti-union in that position, and basically balanced the budget on the backs of longtime employees. And I also have a personal grudge against Claypool - he's backing the plan for a third airport at Peotone (along with Rep. Jesse Jackson Junior) over an expansion of O'Hare. The problem with this plan is that Peotone isn't even in Cook County! Basically, he wants to export yet more jobs that could become available for city residents to a distant exurb, just to mollify a few suburbanite mayors who are angry that an O'Hare expansion would demolish some of their oppressively tacky tract homes.

So where does that leave me? Two candidates I could never love, and I vote I have to base on guesswork - which will do less harm to Chicago's future over the next few years?

And then it got complicated. On Tuesday, John Stroger, who is 76 years old and fairly obese, suffered a serious stroke and had to be hospitalized. He's been in the ICU ever since and may or may not recover enough to return to work. So Chicago is faced with its own Ariel Sharon moment. What happens if Stroger wins but is unable to govern, which looks like the likeliest outcome as of this writing? The 80 Democratic committeemen - 50 representing Chicago's 50 wards and 30 from the burbs - will decide among themselves who the next candidate will be. I have no clue who this might be, and whether the official Machine candidate would be better or worse than Claypool. Do I trust those guys to pick a leader, or vote for Claypool, whom I don't like, but could probably live with?

My hunch is that the Board President job will be used as a political tool by the Machine. A longhot idea - perhaps the job will be offered to Jesse Jr. as a payoff to get him to not run for Mayor against Daley. More likely, it will go to some insider or loyalist - like Dan Hynes, the insider who had the oganizational support but failed to gain traction against Barak Obama in the '04 Senate primary. So any way the primary goes, we're in for some upheaval at the top. It's exciting stuff, but it leaves me playing an unfamiliar role - as an undecided voter.


Trope said...

Help, Mr. Grobnik! Tell us who to vote for!

Stockton & Tweed said...

We care! We still read you!