Monday, April 6, 2015
Chicago's mayoral cat in a box
This is a moment to savor.
Monday, the day before Chicago's mayoral election.
The forces of Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Cook County Commissioner, are energized, enthusiastic, confident they're going to pull off an historic victory.
Or so they claim.
And Rahm Emanuel, the powerful mayor, far ahead in the polls, saturating the airwaves with his millions in campaign cash, cruising to victory, while at the same time wiser for having had to break a sweat to keep his job.
Or so he claims.
Both scenarios true, or at least possible, for a few more hours.
The physicist's son in me wants to evoke Schrodinger's cat, the famous quantum mechanics thought experiment, which postulates a cat sealed in a box with a vial of poison that may or may not have broken, the cat thus being, the strange logic runs, both alive and dead until you look into the box.
That's the state of Chicago politics right now. We exist in a city where both scenarios are treated as inevitable, where Emanual and Garcia have both won and both not won.
On Tuesday, Chicago looks inside the box and finds out.
What will we see? I try not to traffic in the obvious. Let's just say whenever there is talk of a Garcia victory, I hear the voice of Sydney Greenstreet, as Signor Ferrari, "Casablanca's" fat, fez-wearing club owner, in my head: "It would take a miracle to get you out of Casablanca, and the Germans have outlawed miracles."
The newspaperman in me wouldn't mind a Chuy victory, just for its pure drama. The surprise, the civic joy. Democracy in action. The eyes of the nation transfixed on Chicago. The boost it would give a segment of the population who have not yet taken their proper seat at the table of government. That would be the good part. Then the bad part would come. Power hates a vacuum. With Chuy Garcia wandering the 5th floor of City Hall, looking for the washroom, the City Council roars to life with a snarl. Springfield, which has already told Chicago to go pound salt, will become even more intransigent. So a vote for Chuy Garcia becomes a vote for Ed Burke and Mike Madigan.
To me, that's a dead cat.
Sure, there is a depressing, we-can't-go-to-the-circus-because-we-have-to-stay-home-and-do-chores aspect to an Emanuel victory, not just for his abrasive personality, but for his clear-eyed view of Chicago's terrifying, complicated economic problems which are literally against the law to solve. What fun is that? Garcia prefers to talk like he's living in fantasyland: 1,000 new cops paid for with change dug out of city sofas, every school kept open with money earned by putting on a play in the City Hall basement. He either hasn't looked hard at the situation, or doesn't understand, or is just lying.
Look at the closing of 49 schools, the central crime laid at the mayor's feet. If you think the mayor closed them because he doesn't care about kids, then sure, vote for Chuy Garcia. But if you think, "The city's broke. The schools were half empty. The kids transferred to schools as good as or better," well, vote for Rahm Emanuel.
Garcia says he would have held more hearings, talked to more parents before closing those schools. Which sounds great, until you think about it. Held more hearings, talked to more parents until ... what? He found the parents who wanted to close their own schools? Who wanted their kids to walk the extra five blocks to a different school? He was never going to find those parents. Someone had to come in and ram the change through. To make the unpopular choices. That's what a mayor is for.
Enough bickering. Time to open the box and look inside.