I ask this question not in reference to the anti-war protests this weekend in the nation’s capital, but of the municipal elections here in Chicago. Every four years we have a campaign for mayor that is far less competitive than the supposedly undemocratic presidential elections in Venezuela. Now running for his sixth term, mayor Richard M Daley, as per usual, faces no signficant opposition in the election set for Feburary 27th. That means he’ll likely waltz to yet another crushing victory, and the city’s very significant problems will once again not get the airing they desperately need. While it’s true that certain aspects of the city are well-managed, there are enough dysfunctions in Daley-run Chicago that, if the city were actually a functioning democracy, the Mayor would be in real danger of being booted. His administration has been beset by scandals and corruption, most recently the conviction of his ex-patronage chief. The trial demonstrated conclusively that city jobs are still doled out in an old-school style patronage arrangement in violation of consent decrees designed to stop the practice and ensure basic civil service protections for city workers. But in some senses, the corruption pales in comparison to the systematic transfer of hundreds of thousands of poor, black, public housing residents out of the city’s borders under the “Plan for Transfomation“[pdf], and a very troubling and persistent record of extreme police brutality[pdf]. There’s also the budgetary shell game the mayor’s been playing with Tax Increment Financing, something that has been well-covered in the pages of the Chicago Reader.
For all these reasons it was pretty dispiriting to watch Barack Obama kiss the Mayor’s ring last week when he endorsed him at a press conference. Given the fact that Obama is going to do well in Illinois whether Daley helps him out or not, and that Daley himself is going to cruise to victory whether or not he receives Obama’s imprimatur, it’s just hard to see what Obama had to gain from aligning himself with the once and future king.