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Bloombergism Oozes Into Chicago Politics

Russ Stewart 19 June 2013 No Comment

Chicago isn’t New York City – at least not in terms of population, culture, or sheer financial heft. There is no comparable Wall Street, Times Square, Broadway, Tammany Hall, or Central Park in the Windy City.

But, politically, America’s so-called “Second City” – a term which should now be applied to Los Angeles, whose population (3,792,621) has surpassed Chicago’s (2,695,598) – is melding with the Big Apple: “Bloombergism” is oozing from the East Coast to the Mid-Coast. Political machines in both cities are extinct, replaced by money machines and ubiquitous mayors.

Outgoing three-term New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire owner of Bloomberg News Service and other mega-investments, has developed a new methodology and style for governing an urban metropolis.

It is simplicity itself. It demands discipline and accountability, It requires a “hands-on” mayor who functions 24/7, is acutely and instantaneously aware of everything that’s happening, alerts the electronic and print media of all newsworthy developments, gets himself on TV daily, and creates constant photo-ops. In New York, among his detractors, Bloomberg is known as the “Big Mommy,” since he views city government as a like-it-or-not family member.

Under “Bloombergism,” the mayor makes the news, rather than responds to the news. He has the vast resources to monitor events. He makes the media dependent upon him for stories. And, as the payback, he gets top TV play. Bloomberg has, in effect, insinuated himself as a member of everybody’s household. When he decided to cap sugar levels in fast-food soft drinks, there was only minimal pushback. Why not? In New York’s “Mommy State,” why shouldn’t the mayor control everybody’s caloric intake? Let the government make me healthy

In fact, Bloomberg has created a huge high-tech emporium from which he reigns supreme: A football-sized arena resembling a Napoleonic or Hapsburg palace, where he sits aloft at a sophisticated computer console, not unlike Captain Kirk on Star Trek’s fictional Enterprise, surrounded by aides and go-fors, with every city department head and commissioner at a similar computer phalanx within eyesight. He has information. They have the same information. And they better be doing their job.

Daily crime statistics are up? The mayor knows where, and the police commissioner better be deploying more manpower to that sector. A crack house? Get the building inspectors out. Rats, rapes, parades, block-parties, drive-by shootings, vandalism, graffiti, re-zoning applications, fires, city absenteeism – the mayor knows about it in minutes. And his subalterns are expected to react immediately, not several days later after phone calls, memos, and press reports.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has embraced much of Bloomberg’s ubiquitous style, but not yet his methodology. He still operates out of City Hall, not a bullpen, but he creates daily news events and photo-ops. Like Bloomberg, he believes good management is good government, and that ideology and excessive partisanship impede good management. But, in Chicago, there is no partisanship; the Democrats control every elected office, with not a single Republican among the 50 aldermen. There is, of course, racial, geographic and factional bickering.

Here’s a few comparisons between Chicago and New York City:

First, money matters. With the demise of patronage and political machines, the media is the message, supplemented by the U.S. Postal Service. Precinct captains and volunteers are obsolete. Bloomberg’s insistent mommyism is not universally appreciated. He had to self-finance and spend more than $100 million to get re-elected in 2009, taking just 51 percent of the vote, and that was after he rammed through the council a change to term-limit the mayor to three, not two terms — a self-serving ploy which irritated much of the public. The Big Apple’s population is 8,175,133, but 2009’s turnout was roughly 1,060,000, and Bloomberg, running as an independent, topped black Democrat William Thompson 532,726-486,721, a margin of 46,005 votes. A third candidate ran. Turnout was barely 17 percent. Bloomberg spent roughly $188 per vote.

In 2005, Bloomberg ran for a second term as a Republican, faced Hispanic Fernando Ferrer, spent $50 million, and swept to a 723,635-477,903 win (59 percent), in a turnout of 1.23 million.

Obviously, the novelty of “Bloombergism” was waning. He got almost 200,000 fewer votes in 2009 than 2005, and turnout was off by 170,000 voters. His successor, however, will still need to employ his 24/7 methodology.

In Chicago, Emanuel raised and spent $14.3 million in his 2011 campaign, none of which was self-funded. Like New York, 2011’s turnout was anemic. Chicago has 1,406,037 registered voters, Emanuel got 326,331 votes, (55.3 percent) and total turnout was 594,734, or about 42 percent. If some billionaire spent $100 million to be Chicago’s mayor, he’d win. But until that happens, whichever political insider raises $10 million will reign as mayor. Emanuel spent $43.86 per vote.

Second, Republicans have a presence. A Republican won the mayoralty in 1965, 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005, and four of 51 aldermen are Republicans. Not in Chicago.

Third, New York has more talent, more parties, and is top-heavy with elected politicians – all of whom dream of occupying Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence. For them, New York City mayor is the second most powerful and prestigious job in America. It may not be, as Rudy Giuliani hoped, a steppingstone to the presidency, but it’s a political pinnacle.

New York contains 303.3 square miles, to Chicago’s 227.1, and consists of five independently-governed boroughs: Manhattan (which includes Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant), Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Each has a borough president, district attorney, sheriff, and other officials. Citywide, it elects a mayor, controller, and “public advocate,” as well as 51 aldermen, and has 12 congressional districts within city limits. Of the congressmen, 4 are black, two Hispanic, and, of the 6 whites, three are Jewish, two Irish, and one a Republican (from Staten Island). That’s at least 60 ever-ready, ever-present mayoral wannabes.

Chicago aldermen grumble that, dividing the city’s 2,695,598 citizens into 50 wards, they have to “service” 53,900 residents; in New York, the 51 aldermen have to service 160,300 residents.

In the 2013 race to replace Bloomberg, there are 11 candidates, of which seven are Democrats, and include council speaker Christine Quinn, 2009 loser Thompson, public advocate Bill DeBlasio, comptroller John Liu, Hispanic minister Erick Salgado, alderman Sal Albanese, and disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. There will be a September primary, and a runoff if nobody gets more than 50 percent. Quinn, who would be the city’s first woman mayor, leads the pack in the polls, but is under 20 percent. Weiner, DeBlasio, Thompson or Liu will be in the runoff. There are three Republicans: Former Giuliani aide Ray Lhota, and businessmen George McDonald and John Catsimatidis (who has pledged to self-fund $10 million). And then a November election. It’s a gauntlet.

In Chicago, the most powerful aldermen have no desire to be mayor, and, even though the election is non-partisan, there is no profusion of mayoral wannabes.

Unlike Chicago, race in New York is nearly immaterial; Thompson will get most of the black vote, which is 25-30 percent, but he is no Harold Washington; blacks are split between Al Sharpton types in Harlem, and the Jamaicans, Haitians and Caribbean blacks in Queens and the Bronx. There is a large Muslim presence in Brooklyn. A lot of Irish-American pockets remain outside of Manhattan, and Italian-Americans dominate Staten Island. And Manhattan, of course, is filled with rich people, both Jews and gentiles.

ooze

Partisanship, gender, geography and ideology prevail. In short, a liberal female Democrat from Manhattan contests against black, Hispanic and conservative whites from elsewhere. In Chicago, “Manhattan” is the north Lakefront and south Hyde Park; but there’s no cohesive liberal vote or political bench. Likewise, Chicago’s black voter base is not diluted by immigrant Caribbean’s. But, like New York, Chicago’s Hispanic base is inconsequential.

In Chicago, the last Republican mayoral victory occurred in 1927; in New York, Republicans were elected mayor in 1965 (John Lindsay), 1993 and 1997 (Giuliani), and 2001 and 2005 (Bloomberg). Unlike Chicago, which abolished partisan mayoral elections in 1996, and has always elected aldermen on a non-partisan basis, New York resembles Italy, which has dozens of political parties, and is beset by ongoing chaos. Every election is partisan. There are a multiplicity: Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Liberal, Independent, Working Families, Socialist, Right-to-Life, Reform, Greens, and more. Everybody’s viewpoint is represented. All get a ballot line simply by filing minimal signatures. Ballot positioning is determined by prior vote, if any. And candidates can run on more than one party line, with the aggregate vote counted. But that doesn’t spur voter turnout – only candidate profusion, and voter confusion.

In Chicago, there were fleeting independent parties — Chicago First, Solidarity, Harold Washington – during the 1980s, which vanished. New York last elected a “machine” Democrat is 1973 (Abe Beame), and before that Bob Wagner (1953-65) and William O’Dwyer (1947-55). Independent Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor from 1933-45.

In Chicago, geography trumps ideology. Bridgeport ran City Hall from 1933, with brief interruptions – Jane Byrne (1979-83) and Harold Washington/Gene Sawyer (1983-1989). Liberal/independent or black candidacies have been feeble. Emanuel, governing as a Bloomberger/Clintonite, will soon generate fatigue. He, like Bloomberg, will be gone in 12 years.

Russ Stewart is a political commentator for the Chicago Daily Observer.

Email Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.

image the late Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshak, performing his trademark Ooh’s

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