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Civics Mon Mar 16 2015

Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

Civics by Ramsin CanonIt'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.

Or maybe it's a cop, who profiles you or your kids, or even detains you untraceably or without charges to ensure a quiet NATO summit. Maybe he's even unlawfully shot somebody you know.

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.

shuttered CPS school
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.

Magic Johnson, Common & Rahm Emanuel
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?

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Jeremy / March 17, 2015 12:39 PM

I would say if you are not voting you lost the right to criticize.

Andy / September 23, 2015 11:15 PM

Nothing better than reading college newspapers on the internet. I hope this fine young author found a great job after undergrad.

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

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... More...

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