Rahm Emanuel, left, and Chicago’s police superintendent at a news conference, December 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
My kids are into Angry Birds, a game they love for the same reason I once obsessively played Super Mario Brothers: its appeal is incomprehensible to the adults around them. This inscrutable game, however, has one essential truth: you have some pissed off birds compelled by rage to put down some zombie-looking pigs. After a sad effort to play the game myself, I had my own epiphany: this game is actually a metaphor for the city of Chicago. Please bear with me. Angry Birds is more Chicago than the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field or deep-dish pizza. The lunacy, the violence, the plethora of increasingly crazed pigs and those fierce feathered fowl all represent the political actors in a city that’s gone over the edge.
It all starts with the person who seems committed to win the current spirited competition as the most loathsome person in American political life: Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The same Mayor overseeing the closing of fifty-four schools and six community mental health clinics under the justification of a “budgetary crisis” has announced that the city will be handing over more than $100 million to DePaul University for a new basketball arena. This is part of a mammoth redevelopment project on South Lakeshore Drive consisting of a convention center anchored by an arena for a non-descript basketball team that has gone 47-111 over the last five years. It’s also miles away from DePaul’s campus. These aren’t the actions of a mayor. They’re the actions of a mad king.
If you want to understand why Mayor Rahm has approval ratings to rival Rush Limbaugh in Harlem, you can point to priorities like these. The school closures are taking place entirely in communities of color while the city’s elite feed with crazed abandon at an increasingly sapped trough. As Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union chief who led a victorious strike last September fueled by rage at Mayor Rahm, said, “When the mayor claims he is facing unprecedented budget problems, he has a choice to make. He is choosing between putting our communities first or continuing the practice of handing out millions of public dollars to private operators, even in the toughest of times.”
It’s hardly just the labor-left of Chicago pointing out how breathtakingly heartless these priorities are. Rick Telander, the lead sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, penned a piece subtly titled, “With Rahm’s DePaul plan, we’ve entered a new arena of stupidity.” After making clear that DePaul’s team is hardly a magnet for city hoops fans, Telander wrote, “But forget that. Guess who will have to cough up about $100 million to build the thing for the private Catholic university of 25,000, through bonds and the usual sneak attacks of wallet-siphonage—Yes! Taxpayers! Ta-dah!”