Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

How Rahm Emanuel won

April 10, 2015

How was it that Rahm Emanuel was re-elected mayor of Chicago when he did so many unpopular things?   Such as:

  • Awarding no-bid contracts to big campaign donors.
  • Closing and privatizing public schools, almost exclusively in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
  • Shortening red light camera intervals to bring in more revenue in traffic fines.
  • Stonewalling on police abuses, up to and including torture.
  • Politically allying with Gov. Bruce Baumer, whose aim is to make Illinois a right-to-work state.

cyrusinner+001aEmanuel was so close to Chicago’s financial elite he is nicknamed “Mayor One Percent.”  So how did he win re-election, with the support of Chicago’s black wards and poorest voters?

I read two good articles this morning about the Chicago election, one on Naked Capitalism and the other on the Black Agenda Report.  This post is based on those articles.

Emanuel’s victory was not just because of his money advantage and his support by the press.   This was a given, and could have been overcome.

It was because black politicians, from President Obama on down, threw their support to Emanuel, and because his opponent Chuy Garcia, the Cook County commissioner, didn’t really attack the corrupt established system in a meaningful way.

Garcia could have made a strong effort to register voters in black neighborhoods, and aggressively campaign against gentrification, austerity and police abuses, but he didn’t.   His only jobs program was to hire 1,000 more police.

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Altgeld’s America and the America of today

November 20, 2014

During the Progressive Era around the turn of the last century, the big issues facing the USA were much the same as those facing us today—corporate monopoly, the attack on organized labor, political corruption, the tariff and free trade, and military intervention and imperialism.

altgeldsamerica11009944I recently finished reading a book about that era—Altgeld’s America, 1892-1905: The Lincoln Ideal versus Changing Realities by Ray Ginger—in hope that it would give me a new perspective.

Americans in that era—at least in the North—regarded Abraham Lincoln as our national ideal.  Lincoln was born into a poor family and, without money or much formal education, because a successful lawyer, striving politician and eventually President of the United States, the highest office in the land.  But he never forgot or disavowed his origins  He always identified himself with the experience and the interests of the common people, never with the elite.

Within a couple of generations after Lincoln’s death, the USA had become something he would not have recognized.  Lincoln came of age in a nation dominated, at least in the North, by independent farmers, craftsmen and merchants, and by employers who knew all their employees by name.

The USA at the turn of the 20th century was dominated by large corporations and political machines in which the individual had little place.  For many, all that remained of the Lincoln ideal was the belief that someone of humble origins could rise to great wealth.

John Peter Altgeld

John Peter Altgeld

John Peter Altgeld, the governor of Illinois from 1893 to 1897, came as close to embodying the Lincoln ideal as anyone of that era could.

Ginger used his career as a thread to tie together the whole story of reform in Chicago in that era, involving, among others, the lawyer Clarence Darrow, the radical labor leader Eugene V. Debs, the social worker Jane Addams, the social critic Thorstein Veblen, the educator and philosopher John Dewey, the novelist Theodore Dreiser and the architect Frank Lloyd Wright—all of them free individuals who sought the public good in an age of large corporations organized for private profit.

All I had known about Altgeld prior to reading this book, aside from a poem by Vachel Lindsay, was that he opposed the use of federal troops to break the Pullman strike in Chicago, and that he sacrificed his political career to pardon the innocent but hated Haymarket anarchists, convicted of the killing of a policeman based on no evidence except their anarchist beliefs.

Actually, those two facts tell what’s essential to know—that Altgeld, like Lincoln, may have been ambitious, but he put justice ahead of ambition.

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