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Civics Mon Mar 16 2015
It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot water.
The problem many Chicagoans have with Mayor Emanuel is not that their feelings were hurt because he's a mean-o.
People who have had their schools close, or seen friends, relatives or neighbors lose their jobs, or lose their mental health care, because of the mayor's policies, would not feel better because that news came to them by singing telegram.
Only a pronounced alienation from the reality of working class life in Chicago could cause someone to think the mayor's problem is one of tone and not substance.
Chicago is waiting for the early bus in the cold. It goes hard on you and it nickel-and-dimes you. You have to be hard to survive and creative to get on. Chicagoans have earned not only being listened to, but a part in running things themselves. Not just quietly obeying imported technocrats and unaccountable "social entrepreneurs."
If you work for a living in one of this city's shamefully segregated neighborhoods, Rahm Emanuel is not the meanie you have to worry about. That is more likely your boss, who pays you as little as they can, and holds your fate in their hands arbitrarily. Who can mistreat you for getting pregnant, for example.
The meanness is the bus that shows up late, or the pot hole that flattens your tire. You feel meanness at seeing the school building, once bustling with youth and life, now foreboding and empty.
image via WBEZ
For Helen Morley, meanness was the fact of the closure of her mental health clinic, an event which she said meant her certain death, which came some months after the closure.
Whether someone is listening to you or not, these things are going to hurt. Getting a tip of the hat before a punch to the gut is cold comfort.
Perhaps the mental health closures were necessary, even while a tax break for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was necessary. Maybe those schools needed to be closed. Maybe library staff needed to be slashed. Maybe teachers in Chicago do want to give students "the shaft."
But those are differences of substance and priorities, not of tone.
As in any election, particularly a Chicago election, there are plenty of arguments for any candidate. I've made my personal decision clear -- I haven't voted in three years. I don't see any utility in it. For everyone else, though, there are arguments about bond market discipline, priorities, the cart and the horse in terms of building revenue; there is a strong case to be made of just accepting the reality of the entrepreneurial city. Maybe you think the benefits of privatizing school systems outweigh the harms. Who knows? There's plenty to debate.
But it's (ironically) a tone-deaf argument to keep insisting that Mayor Emanuel's problem is one of style. A problem of style, or brand, can be overcome with marketing. Say, $7 million in television ads. Endorsements from big institutions. Press conferences with high-profile supporters.
image via Chicago Reader.
Listening as a polite gesture may avoid hurt feelings, but it is not transparency or good government. Large institutions need active, policy-making participation from constituents, not just press-event listening tours, to arrive at and implement solutions that will be supported by those constituents. Imposing technocratic solutions will work for only so long. Decision makers insulate themselves from injured constituencies, disparage them, marginalize them as "special interests," or even try to dispute their existence to protect their technocratic image. After all, the whole point of a technocrat is that their solutions are good. Otherwise what's the point of them?