New York politics dont’t sell in ‘Mid-coastal’ city
by RUSS STEWART
Some years ago I met a Chicago-based writer who was pondering an aldermanic bid in the 41st Ward. "You can describe me as a Mid-coastal author," she chirped. Say what?
She responded that there are East Coast "people of creativity," mainly from New York City, Boston and Washington, and there are West Coasters from Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, but that "those of us in Chicago are Mid-coastal."
Welcome to the new reality, as defined by the Manhattan intelligentsia and the Hollywood glitterati. Those who are truly "progressive" and enlightened live on the coasts, while we in backwoods Chicago are no longer in the "City of Big Shoulders," but rather in some politically and culturally insignificant hamlet rating cursory recognition and exhibiting minimal creativity.
After all, none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was born and raised in Park Ridge, jilted her home state in 2000 to seek a U.S. Senate seat from New York, where she and Bill Clinton had a Westchester County mansion, rather than return to Illinois and wait to run for senator in 2004. An East Coast base trumps a Mid Coast base. Had she run in Illinois, Barack Obama would not have been elected senator in 2004 and would not be president.
The point is that media, financial, political, literary, entertainment and advertising power emanates from the coasts — Hollywood, Broadway, Wall Street, Madison Avenue, Times Square, Greenwich Village, Haight Asbury, Nob Hill. The U.S. senators from New York and California can raise $20 million per election cycle.
In the East, the blue states of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont and Massachusetts are hopelessly Democratic, and voting Republican is deemed to be a mark of cultural betrayal as well as intellectual retardation. Ditto in the West, in California, Oregon and Washington.
The November election of Democrat Bill de Blasio has spawned a plethora of media outbursts about the laggardness of Chicago, the so-called "Second City." In actuality, Chicago is now the "Third City," with its 2010 population of 2,695,598 putting it behind New York City’s 8,175,133 and Los Angeles’s 3,792,621. Why, the media bleats, if New York can elect a socialistic, tax-the-rich-more, redistribute-the-wealth, handcuff-the-police mayor, what’s wrong with Chicago? Or, specifically, what’s wrong with Mayor Rahm Emanuel? Wasn’t he a firebrand liberal while he was in Congress?
Is Chicago languishing in the Mid Coast Dark Ages? The answer is: absolutely. Chicago will never be a clone of the Big Apple. Here’s why:
First, social issues are irrelevant in Chicago. For Chicago voters, regardless of race, low taxes, low crime and city services are paramount. Chicago’s mayor must be fiscally conservative, rein in spending, not raise taxes, and use the police force to fight crime. Not in New York, where political correctness is obligatory. De Blasio’s two main issues were to bar police from stop-and-frisk tactics and to sock the "wealthy" to pay more taxes to fund "universal early childhood education." De Blasio won with 73.3 percent of the vote.
Unlike Chicago, which last elected a Republican mayor in 1927, New York elected Republican mayors in 1965 (John Lindsay), 1993 and 1997 (Rudy Giuliani), and 2001 and 2005 (Michael Bloomberg), an independent in 2009 (Bloomberg), and a "fusion" — meaning Republican and Liberal — mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, in 1937, 1941 and 1945. New York’s Democratic mayors have been intermittent; Chicago’s have been permanent. New York has a three-term limit; Chicago has none.
Under the regimes of Giuliani and Bloomberg, fiscal responsibility and tough-on-crime stances were the norm. Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, subscribed to the "broken window" theory: If crime spikes in a certain area, flood it with police. That’s exactly the philosophy of Emanuel and Chicago police chief Gerry McCarthy. If murder is up, redeploy all available manpower to the troubled area. It works. Bloomberg continued Giuliani’s anti-crime policy and focused on providing services. After easy wins in 2001 and 2005, he barely beat a black Democrat in 2009, winning by just 532,726-486,721, with 52.3 percent of the vote.
Unlike Chicago, which has had a nonpartisan mayoral system since 1997 and which always has had nonpartisan aldermanic elections, New York is still partisans. There are a profusion of political parties: Liberal, Conservative, Reform and Independence, in addition to Democratic and Republican. Candidates can run on one or more lines, and when the Democrats nominate somebody too liberal or a minority, voters have alternatives. Unlike Chicago, with a population which is 32/33/27 percent white/black/Hispanic, New York is 44/26/29.
Second, in New York political correctness has resurfaced with a vengeance and run amok. It used to be that the hallmark of a "sensitive" liberal was to let his wife keep her maiden name, as Emanuel has. Now, superficiality has risen to an art form.
The path to Gracie Mansion in New York entails winning a Democratic mayoral primary with at least 40 percent of the vote or winning a runoff and then beating a Republican candidate and a bunch of other party nominees. Giuliani won as the Republican-Conservative candidate, Lindsay as the Republican-Liberal and then in 1969 as the Liberal candidate, and Bloomberg as the Independent-Republican.
In the 2013 Democratic primary, each candidate tried to adopt a position as the most politically correct, pro-diversity, wealth redistributor. They all agreed: No more of those oppressive Republican mayors. It’s time for a real liberal. Everybody wants to soak the rich and cannot be differentiated. Therefore, the race was all about perceptions. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn of Manhattan, an open lesbian, was an early favorite to be the city’s first female mayor, but de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, which is a job in which he could meddle in every city bureaucracy and generate endless headlines, checkmated her. He is from Queens, he married a black woman who was an avowed lesbian and fathered two mixed-race children whom he featured on his television ads, and he campaigned on the premise that the rich need to pay more taxes in order to subsidize the poor. He won the primary with 40.1 percent of the vote, and he beat Republican Joe Lhota with 73.3 percent of the vote.
Will that scenario ever play out in Chicago? Never.
Another distinction: In 2013 just 24 percent of New York’s 4.3 million registered voters turned out, while in 2011 42.2 percent of Chicago’s 1.4 million voters turned out. In New York a small minority of the population, not more than 15 percent, can dictate the mayoral winner; in Chicago it takes close to 30 percent.
Third, economics matter. The urban tax base is shrinking. The 2007-08 bank meltdowns cost New York hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues. Chicago’s fiscal year 2014 budget is $7.8 billion, while New York’s is $70 billion, or nine times greater. New York’s population is three times Chicago’s, which means the per capita tax burden on New Yorkers is about $8,500, compared to $3,000 per Chicagoan. New York contains 301 square miles, and Chicago contains 228. The cost to government of servicing, policing and maintaining that real estate is $23 million per square mile; in Chicago it’s $3.4 million.
Fourth, Chicago’s political infrastructure is far less robust than New York’s, which has five borough governments — Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island — in addition to a citywide government, including an elected mayor, City Council speaker, controller and public advocate. Each borough has a president, a district attorney and a sheriff. There are 51 council members, elected from districts. That’s a huge reservoir of about 68 ambitious politicians who are lusting to be the mayor. New York has three Republican aldermen; Chicago has none.
New York last elected a Tammany Hall (meaning Democratic machine) mayor in 1973, but each borough has a Democratic chairman, and they run Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Staten Island remains Republican. Since each borough has a district attorney, there’s intense prosecutorial competition to put errant politicians, mobsters, financiers and drug lords in the slammer. Nobody doubts that Emanuel and his predecessor Rich Daley were part of the fading Chicago machine.
There’s only one state’s attorney in Cook County and the city clerk and city treasurer are inconsequential, so other than the sheriff and county board president, there’s no credible bench of mayoral wannabes.
Fifth, the New York media have a piranha mentality, ever eager to expose malfeasance and stupidity. Every politician is in a fishbowl, as Anthony Weiner can attest. The conservative New York Post’s sensationalism tempers the liberal New York Times’ haughtiness. Chicago’s media is bland by comparison.
Sixth, New York’s sanitation, transit, teachers unions make Chicago’s look like girl scouts. They shut down the city whenever they please, until they get what they want. At least Chicago mayors have some backbone.
Seventh, smut, porn, and nudity on stage, on television and in bars is the Big Apple norm. Secularism reigns. In Chicago, the Catholic Church keeps the city culturally conservative.
So what does this portend for 2015, when Emanuel’s term ends? The mayor has enraged the police, teacher and public sector unions. He’s reduced the city deficit by half. Though sometimes erratic, he’s generally competent, and most importantly, there’s no Bill de Blasio around to beat him.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.