Category Archives: Chicago News

Mayor Daley’s Turning Points

For most of my life, there’s been a Mayor Daley running Chicago. I remember that as a little kid, I didn’t even realize that “Mayor” was a title.

When Mayor Richard J. Dailey died in 1976, there was a succession of short-term mayors, including Michael Bilandic (appointed by the city council), Jane Byrne (an insider who ran as an outsider after Bilandic fired her), Harold Washington (Chicago’s first black mayor, who died in office), David Orr (by succession, for about a week), Eugene Sawyer (appointed by the city council), until 1989, when Richard M. Daley, son of the first Mayor Daley, finally took the Chicago throne. After the first few re-elections, people started joking that his proper title was “Mayor-For-Life,” but in just a few weeks he’s about to retire.

The Chicago Tribune‘s Leon Kass has a personal look back at Daley’s career. Everyone’s heard of the Great Chicago Fire, but how many people outside of this town remember the Great Chicago Flood? That’s when Kass began to sour on Daley:

Opening Day for the White Sox is a day of South Side obligation, and the mayor and yours truly were obligated to attend services at Sox Park. But our plans changed when an underground tunnel ruptured along the Chicago River. Most Chicagoans didn’t even know the tunnels were there, but they sure learned about them when the Loop was flooded and the entire central city was shut down.

A furious mayor wanted political heads on a pike.

One reluctant head belonged to Jim McTigue, a low-ranking North Side city worker, a Cubs fan and tunnel inspector. Daley held a news conference to rip on McTigue, saying McTigue didn’t warn his superiors of the breach in the tunnel that led to the flood. It turned out that Daley was wrong, that McTigue had indeed warned his bosses, and they had ignored him.

“I don’t want to become the Mrs. O’Leary’s cow of the flood,” McTigue told me.

Yeah, a lot of people think the cow was a frame-up too. It’s the Chicago way.

It also turned out that Daley’s friends were making a fortune off the flood.

Yup, that’s also the Chicago way. I remember one hot summer when a large chunk of one of the city’s older residential areas was out of power for days because the substation feeding the area pretty much blew up. Daley was on television ranting about Commonwealth Edison’s incompetence. They probably deserved it too, but Daley was also ranting about how they needed to start over and do things right by bringing in consultants to fix the problem. I’m sure that he had a specific list of consultants in mind.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you have a powerful political machine like Chicago’s. Instead of the rule of law, you get rule by the arbitrary whims of the man in power.

There were many Jim McTigues in the city. Not just fall guys, but business owners, taxpayers, regular folks who were terrified that they’d run afoul of City Hall and get stepped on.

…by the mid-1990s, Daley’s hatchet men had rigged employment tests to build vast patronage armies, allowing him to control all of Cook County and become the dominant political silverback male in Illinois.

Kass discusses another big scandal or two, but then comes to an interesting conclusion about when Daley’s invincible political machine started to falter:

But then he destroyed Meigs Field, the little airport on the lake. He sent his bulldozers out in the middle of the night and slashed the runways with giant X’s. He ruined Meigs because he wanted to, because he could.

“There are three Daleys,” said a prominent political figure who supports the mayor, at least publicly. “There’s the Daley who got elected, the one you liked. Then there’s the Daley who cut all those deals. And there’s the Daley who destroyed Meigs Field. And once he did that, he lost his way.”

I never understood Daley’s problem with Meigs Field, or why he’d been fighting a legal battle to close it. He claimed he wanted to use the land as a nice park for all the city’s residents, instead of a perq for the rich fatcats with private planes — an unbelievable claim for a deal-maker like Daley. After 9/11, the story changed to one of concern about terrorism and having an airport so close to the skyscrapers downtown, as if a small plane could do any more damage than a hijacked truck, or that a hijacked jet from nearby O’Hare Airport couldn’t reach the city center in about three minutes.

(Even if you don’t know Chicago, you may recognize Meigs Field from Microsoft Flight Simulator. It was the airport you started at by default.)

Anyway, one night a crew of workers used bulldozers to carve those giant X’s in the runways, rendering the airport unusable. It was an obscene thing to do to a working airport, and Daley did it with no warning to airport staff, no warning to the people whose planes were now stranded, and no warning to the FAA. For anyone else, sabotaging an airport like this would be an act of terrorism, but in Chicago under Daley, the city just had to pay a fine.

After Meigs, things were different between Chicago and Daley. Chicago had seen the other side of his face. Things went downhill from there. His friends got rich but Chicago floated in red ink. He failed to win the Olympics. Taxes kept rising. He sold off the skyway, the parking meters.

Geoff Dougherty at Chicago Current has a different take on the start of Daley’s decline:

I think the turning point came a bit later for Daley, when the Hired Truck scandal got cranking.

That was a classic Chicago scam. The city was hiring private trucks to do hauling for construction projects, and one day an enterprising reporter noticed that dump trucks were sitting at city construction projects and just waiting for days, doing nothing except transfering city money to the trucking contractor. A few instances of this could be explained by the uncertainties of construction, but this was happening a lot. Millions of dollars a year were were changing hands while the the trucks sat idle.

(I remember that some Teamsters union rep was a little unclear on the concept, because he thought the big scandal was that the do-nothing truck drivers should have been union do-nothing truck drivers.)

I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the city, so I have no idea whether John Kass or Geoff Dougherty has correctly identified when thing started turning sour for Daley, but I’m pretty sure it was ultimately the parking meters that sealed his fate.

When you do a deal to turn over metered parking operations to a private company, and that company raises prices, increases the number of hours of paid parking per week, and switches to a payment system that is less convenient, you irritate every single driver in Chicago. That can’t do anything good for your re-ection chances.

Cleaning Up the Snow

Chicago got hit by a pretty big snowstorm this week. I suppose I’d know just how big if I’d been paying attention to the news, but those people drive me crazy. What are they calling it? “Snowmaggedon”? “Snowpocalypse”? “Snowlocaust”?


Look, it’s not that this wasn’t a big snowstorm. It was huge. It’s got to be one of the 4 or 5 heaviest snowfalls in the past 50 years. I’m not pretending it wasn’t much worse than usual. But this is Chicago.

It’s not that we’re too tough to notice the snow. But we’ve seen snow before, and we know how to handle it. We’re prepared. We’ve got brushes and scrapers and de-icing spray for the cars. We’ve got shovels and road salt and snow blowers. There’re a couple of thousand guys with pickup trucks and jeeps who attach a plow blade and make a little extra money clearing parking lots and driveways. There’s a guy on my block who owns a small construction company; he brought a Bobcat loader home with him to clean out the alley behind his house.

The condo association where I live changed plow services a few years ago, and the new guys are really good. The first plow showed up Tuesday night in the middle of the snowstorm. Another one showed up Wednesday when the snow stopped falling, and between the plowing service and a bunch of residents with shovels, our parking lot looked pretty much like this.

There’s a driveway along one building that’s hard to clear with a plow because people park along it leaving too narrow a path, but later on Wednesday they brought some sort of equipment and cleared the whole thing.

As long as the temperature stays below freezing, snow remains an obdurate mass. Shovels and plows can more it around the landscape, but they can’t get rid of it. All the snow on the driveway pictured above ended up in a massive heap in front of the building.

Since it’s blocking the public sidewalk, I assume the condo management company has hired a few dump trucks to eventually haul it away.

You know, sometimes a libertarian lesson just finds you. We’ve cleaned out our lot, driveways, and sidewalks. And as this shot shows, so have a lot of other folks in our neighborhood:

Now take a look at the public street next to our building:

That was north-looking. Here’s the view to the south.

Notice anything?

Those of you from non-snowy climates probably can’t tell, but the street hasn’t been plowed. The path down the street is made entirely by wheel ruts and people who’ve dug out their parking spaces. The city has yet to plow the side streets.

The north-south street gets a lot of traffic–it’s a shortcut to a business area–but the east-west street is pretty quiet. That means it looks even worse:

You can see where people have walked through this area, but there are no wheel tracks. It’s impassable to cars.

Since I’ve taken these pictures, good samaritans with snowblowers have been clearing the streets, and the roads are becoming more usable.

I’m not quite sure what the lesson is here. It’s not really that governments provide crappy service. After all, city and country crews have been clearing all the main streets and highways. They’re getting a lot done.

I guess the lesson I’m seeing is that in difficult times, most people will take care of themselves and their neighbors pretty well, working together and helping each other out, when they can.

In any case, as soon as the city clears the side streets, we’re good to go.

They Should Have Rung the Bell

Here’s yet another tragic story of an elderly couple terrorized by gangs of local thugs in Chicago.

With her husband already asleep, 84-year-old Anna Jakymek was just turning out the lights when she heard loud noises at the back and front doors about 11:30 p.m.
Her initial thought was that her 89-year old husband had fallen out of bed, but she realized something else was happening when she looked into the front room.
“I see maybe 20 guys come in and see the door knocked open,” she said.
The intruders were members of the Cook County sheriff’s police gang crimes narcotics unit executing a search warrant at the home on the 5600 block of South Kilbourn Avenue.

They had a warrant for a 23 year old Hispanic male suspected of dealing coke and meth. What they found was an elderly Russian couple who had come to America to escape from the oppressive Soviet Union where people had to live in fear of their government. The Cook Country Sheriff’s Police weren’t sure if that was just a clever disguise, though, so instead of apologizing for their mistake they trashed the home anyway looking for the couple’s stash of drugs. They found some aspirin.

“I didn’t believe it was the police. They broke everything. I told them they should have rung the bell.”

After mouthing off to the cops like that I’m surprised she wasn’t arrested for obstruction and resisting arrest. The police were understandably aggravated since the couple had no pets. With nothing left to break, and nothing to shoot at, the cops left.

…the officer explained they had misinformation, but said his job was over, and he was leaving. They left a copy of the warrant, but he absolved himself of any responsibility for the raid or the damage…

Cook County Sheriff, Tom Dart, is positioning himself to run for Mayor of Chicago. I wonder if he’ll be commenting on this incident. I also wonder if his opponents will push for a comment, or if they will just fear being labelled “soft on crime”.

UPDATE: The article has been modified and now mentions that the couple is Ukrainian, not Russian, and has added a picture of the couple. I wonder which one the police thought was the 23 year old Hispanic man they were looking for. The story also added a comment by a police spokesman:
“As soon as we entered the home, we knew this couple was not involved in the activity alleged”

But they still decided to trash the house anyway.

Not Everyone Who Peeks Up Skirts is a Terrorist

This just in:

International terrorists, no longer content with blowing up buildings, are now targeting parking lot lights in home center stores. This is a dangerous new development. Obviously Al Qaeda is jealous of our well lit parking lots and feel they can bring America to her knees by darkening our shopping experience one lamp post at a time.
If you glanced at the linked article you will see that some people freaked out over something called a geocache. Geocaching is a slightly strange hobby that is not accurately described in the article. (The article even managed to get the store location wrong.) Geocaching is a hobby where people hide containers that have a small log (sometimes just a strip of paper) and then post the latitude and longitude where it was hidden. Given the limitations of current GPS technology the actual container is not always so easy to find. When you find one, you sign the paper log, leaving a brief story if you like (and room permitting in a logbook), then re-log the find on the Geocaching website.
There are several variations in how you can hide the container, including creating a string of locations required to find the final, or having to solve a puzzle to get the actual coordinates. There are even virtual caches which may require that you post a picture or provide other information from a location to prove you were there.
There are no computer chips inside geocaches. The “geotag” is just the ID number of the cache. The hobby is often described as looking for Tupperware in the forest preserve. Caches are often hidden in old tree trunks. There are also many “urban caches” hidden in well traveled areas. You can see the details on this particular cache.
I used to geocache myself. Yes, I’m a geek. Maybe even a nerd. This cache is what is known as a Lamp Post Skirt (LPS) cache. Many people may not realize that the small “skirt” on the bottom of many lamp posts are not secured and simply lift up. They are in place to prevent the bolts from rusting and to give the lamp post a cleaner appearance. Hardcore geocachers hate them since they are too obvious and easy. New cachers love them since it’s kind of cool to find a cache in the middle of a busy place. A friend of mine enjoyed urban caches since he would hunt them while walking his baby in a stroller.
So what we had was a cacher who found an LPS cache (probably an old 35mm film canister), signed the log, replaced the cache and drove away. Supposedly a clerk asked what the cacher was doing. Geocachers, being typical nerds, love explaining the hobby. My guess is that the clerk didn’t understand a word and naturally assumed that a terrorist was trying to blow up the lamp post. With something the size of a film canister. At a Menards floor covering facility. 250 foot away from the store, near a retention pond. Nowhere near where any other cars can park.
Of course this is just a lowly store clerk. The store manager, I’m sure, wouldn’t freak out and call the police. Well, maybe he would. But the police, who are notified by area geocachers about the hobby periodically would think first, check the geocaching website and not freak out. Well, maybe they would. But once on the scene surely they wouldn’t freak out and evacuate the store calling in the bomb squad. Well…
Is there anyone with enough experience with explosives out there who could tell me just how much damage can be caused by stuffing gunpowder (or even TNT) into a film canister and placing it under a lamp post skirt? My impression (from my vast experience watching the Discover Channel) is that beyond blowing the skirt apart at the seams, you would be hard pressed to dent the lamp post.
Listen up people. When you see someone with a camera and a logbook taking pictures of a train, that is not a terrorist. When you see someone peeking up the skirt of a lamp post while holding a GPSr, that is not a terrorist. These people are called nerds or geeks. Their unforgivable post-911 sin is that they don’t act normal. Many of them don’t even look normal. That didn’t used to be a crime.

#3 With a Bullet

The Forbes list of “America’s Most Miserable Cities” is out and Chicago has moved up to number 3 from last year’s number 6 position.

Lousy weather, long commutes, rising unemployment and the highest sales tax rate in the country are to blame for the Windy City being near the top of our list. High rates of corruption by public officials didn’t help either.

A big factor in our advancement was apparently public corruption:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, has been very busy in recent years. They convicted 385 public officials of crimes over the past decade, a per capita rate that puts it in the bottom third of big U.S. metros.

The Northern District office boasts of recent successful prosecutions, including “a corrupt former governor of Illinois, Chicago officials who rigged city hiring, individuals who lied about their support of foreign terrorism, corporate executives who cheated public shareholders and traditional organized-crime bosses who were responsible for notorious murders.”

Illinois’ record of public corruption, particularly in the governor’s office, is staggering. Five of the past nine governors have been charged with crimes, and three, as of now, have served time in prison.

Then there’s our economy:

The misery in Chicago runs much deeper than just corruption, though. Unemployment is expected to surge to 9.2% in 2009, up from 6.6%. The Tribune Co. is mired in bankruptcy, while big local employers like Midway Games, Motorola, and the University of Chicago Medical Center have all announced big layoffs.

Residents have been showing their dissatisfaction with Chicago with their feet, perhaps fed up by the average low temperature of 17 degrees in January. There has been a net migration of people out of Chicago for seven straight years, a trend that is expected to continue.

The article also mentions our winter weather, our sales tax—at 10.3% it’s the highest in the country—and the Cubs’ century-long losing streak, but for some reason it neglects to mention last year’s sudden surge of murders.

Why They Are Corrupt

The Chicago Tribune has a story about Alderman Arenda Troutman that illustrates some different ways of looking at public corruption.

It was the headline on the home page that caught my eye:

Ex-Ald. Troutman pleads guilty in corruption case

The former alderman admits taking cash to support zoning changes and permits for developers.

Really? She “admits taking cash” from developers. Like she was just minding her own business when some developers offered her cash out of the blue?

The first paragraph of the story inside paints a more realistic picture.

In an about-face from earlier pledges that she was innocent of corruption charges leveled against her, former Ald. Arenda Troutman pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to scheming to extort cash in exchange for supporting zoning changes and permits for developers.

Yeah, that sounds right. I don’t think she was selflessly blocking unwise zoning changes out of concern for her ward, only to be seduced by developers waving wads of cash.

This is one of the reasons libertarians don’t like pervasive government: It allows corrupt government officials to stick their nose into everything and squeeze people. Troutman wouldn’t have been able to do this if she didn’t have control over the permitted use of every piece of land in her ward.

Officer Down

Well, this sucks:

A 27-year veteran Chicago police officer was shot in the head and killed by a woman who grabbed his gun during a struggle outside a police headquarters on the North Side early Wednesday, authorities said.

Officers who responded to the scene at Belmont and Western Avenues around 2 a.m. then shot the woman several times, critically wounding her, they said.

Belmont District Officer Richard Francis, 60, was taken to Illinois Masonic Medical Center and pronounced dead just before 3 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. He was the first police officer fatally shot in the line of duty since 2002.

In other reports, the woman is described as mentally disturbed. And somehow she managed to take a gun away from a veteran officer and kill him with it. No rhyme or reason to it.

My condolences to the Francis family. I’m sorry for their loss.