Tag Archives: Rahm Emanuel

A Strong and Belated Opinion About the Lucas Museum

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Urbs in horto

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art isn’t coming to Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is very angry about this. Rahm wants you to think he’s angry because Chicago lost a great opportunity for a new public cultural attraction. He also wants you to think that a small group of killjoys ruined Chicago’s chances to accept a very generous gift from George Lucas, the very same man who very generously gave the world Jar Jar Binks.

I love this story. I love that our bullying mayor and the billionaire behind Howard the Duck  could line up the Chicago City Council, the Illinois Legislature, and the Park District, and then get whupped by a troubled advocacy organization, Friends of the Parks. Score a win for the little guys!

mayor1percent-600Or..the little guys didn’t win, and nobody got beat.  Rahm isn’t angry about missed opportunities. Rahm is angry because he needed a win, and he lost. There is one thing our racially divided city agrees on: Rahm sucks. The only thing interrupting news stories about the dire state of our schools are news stories about gun violence and police brutality. He invested his last two ounces of prestige for a legacy project and blew it.

Worse for Rahm, he sided with a raging egomaniac who likes to take his toys and go home. Here’s what got overshadowed in the coverage of the museum: George Lucas, the chinless former wunderkind writer of Willow, quit. Was there a lawsuit to stop the museum? Yes, but it never actually went to trial.  All of the legal action in the case was the city trying to get the case dismissed, and a federal judge allowing it to proceed. The city tried to get the case thrown out twice, and then engaged in some extravagant legal tricks to argue that the case shouldn’t be in court in the first place. Chicago is pretty good about keeping things out of court, usually by paying huge settlements to people brutalized by cops. So I guess you could see why Rahm thought this would work.

The mayor and the writer of Captain Eo insist that the case was about Friends of the Parks preserving a parking lot. Who would want to do that? Surprising answer: no one. The mayor wanted to get his 9.5 fingers into lakefront property that is protected as a public trust. Friends of the Parks argued, and the judge agreed, that building the museum would primarily benefit a private entity, namely George Lucas’ Death Star-sized ego in edificial form. It’s not about a parking lot – it’s about preserving the lakefront for public use. And Friends of the Parks hoped that the parking lot could be returned to public use sometime before the 297 year lease on the museum ran out.

Let’s talk about the ego of the man who brought us Strange Magic.  Who offers a museum with the huge condition that it be built on a waterfront? Even if you think it was dumb to preserve a parking lot, is it any less dumb to offer to build a museum and be completely inflexible on the location?   As the Tribune pointed out “We wonder whether Lucas appreciates the irony that he could hold his 2013 wedding on Promontory Point only because Chicago for nearly two centuries had protected that stretch of lakefront from the kind of development he now demands for himself at another lakefront site.” Not surprisingly, San Francisco rejected this sort of ultimatum, which is why Lucas brought his toys to us in the first place.

Yes, three other museums make up the “campus” on the lakefront, and when the Bears play at home Soldier Field becomes the Museum of Minorities Concussing Themselves. Tiny Dancer said, “museums belong on a museum campus,” apparently forgetting about the non-campused Museum of Science and Industry. And the Art Institute. And the Chicago History Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Chicago Children’s Museum. He really wants to forget about the Chicago Children’s Museum. That museum caused all sorts of controversy when it wanted to move onto public land in Grant Park until – wait for it – it was quashed by Mayor Emanuel in 2012. At the time, he reasoned that it was better to keep the museum in Navy Pier “as a strong pillar in the redevelopment vision” for Chicago’s best place to get shit on by seagulls.

Perhaps Rahm could’ve stuck with this idea for redevelopment when the genius who brought you Tucker: The Man and His Dream came knocking. The mayor could have suggested building the museum on the Michael Reese Hospital site. There are two big advantages there: it’s not far from Lucas’ fantasy site, and the city has owned it for seven years. Just look what we’ve done with it:

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The property was bought when Chicago’s previous petit autocrate, Mayor Daley, decided that we really needed the 2016 Summer Olympics. We dodged that bullet, but taxpayers are left holding the bag for the original $91 million plus another $43 million in interest if isn’t sold soon. Instead, Mayor Emanuel came up with a different plan to build the museum on the site of the current McCormick Place. This plan would have required $1.2 billion in state funds. In Illinois. In case you haven’t noticed, state funds in Illinois aren’t easy to come by. And oddly enough, this violated one of the rules of the original site selection committee: that it not cost any money to Chicago taxpayers. 

Let’s pretend that Father Michael Pfleger forgot about the $200,000 George Lucas gave his church in 2014 when he questioned the motives of Friends of the Parks.  Why not move the museum to a site the city already owns and give a boost to development in area south of downtown for a change? It can’t just be because the idea man behind Red Tails had his heart set on being near the water, can it?

Now that the project is dead, we’re supposed to bow our heads at the lost tourists, tax dollars, and jobs the museum would’ve brought. Boosting tourism, taxes, and jobs sounds a lot like the argument Daley used to hype the Olympics and the one used to build sports stadiums, both of which rarely work out well for cities.  First, people have a finite amount WattoHSof money. The dollars spent buying a replica Hayden Christensen Oscar at the Lucas Museum can’t also be spent on whatever the hell it is you buy at Navy Pier. Second, all the traffic caused by the whimsical Phantom Menace: Racist Alien Caricatures exhibit will probably keep other people from going to the Shedd Aquarium. This is already true: visiting the museum campus is a nightmare during a Bears game. But Soldier Field is a Park District building, and the Bears lease it for $6 million a year. The Park District can use it or lease it out for other things the rest of the time. Chicago could wait until 2313 for the same access to the Lucas Museum.

I’m not the sort of creative genius who could bring you Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, like George Lucas, and 70% of Black Chicagoans don’t think I suck. But I have an idea: what if Rahm redirected all of his docile allies and the cajoling, bullying, and lawyers, into repairing Chicago’s infrastructure and making people less afraid of being shot? I bet tourists would like that. You know who else would like that? Chicagoans. We could also go for having enough police on the streets and having a reasonable expectation that they were accountable. A new museum would be nice; nicer still would be families not fleeing to the cultural desolation of the suburbs because our schools might not open in the fall. It wouldn’t be as visible a legacy as a new museum, but it would be a great story about the failing Mayor who fixed Chicago – the guy I voted for twice. Maybe Rahm could get George Lucas to chip in – the guy wrote an ok story long, long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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These Clowns Totally Prepared Our Kids. Just Not How We Wanted.

When my eldest son was pre-school age, my wife and I went on a tour of the University of Chicago’s Lab School. It was a formative experience. Here’s what we learned from the mom hosting the tour:

(a)arts classes don’t matter
(b) there is no homework and no grades in the elementary program
(c) the food of  Asian children smells funny
(d) that children with physical disabilities often “feel more comfortable somewhere else”.

I remember that last line clearly. One thing was emphasized over and over again on the tour: : students at Lab were constantly “evaluated for fit” during their careers to make sure they could continue on. Fitting in is important. And you can only do that if you eat appropriately fragrant food, learned piano on your own time, and please – don’t limp. I

You would think this would remove all sorts of kids from consideration at Lab. Heck no. Each person from the school took pains to say how diverse the school was. Mayor Emanuel sends his kids there, as does recently resigned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Diversity: when kids of local and federal officials are at your school. At one point on our tour, I asked our host if “diversity” meant actual economic diversity, or just racial diversity. All I got was a blank stare. And an elbow from my wife. It was a dumb question: the diverse student body at Lab is filtered through a screen of eye-watering tuition: more than $30k a year, plus an expectation that you’ll “donate” more to the school. If a Potemkin village had a school, it would be like Lab.

clowns

The Potemkin Village might also choose Gems World Academy, a school so fancy that it exists in a residential area of Chicago I didn’t know existed – because there’s only one road in and out. I found myself in the lobby a few months ago. On a table near the giant touchscreens was a brochure extolling the diversity of the school, and focusing on their “core values,” which include “global citizenship.” Gems and Lab’s competitor, the Latin School, also wants to “shape leaders” for a diverse world. Francis Parker seeks to create “citizens and leaders…in a global community.” Francis Parker is also where the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool, sends his kids – though he tries not to talk about it. I don’t know why it’s a big deal, it’s totally ok to run a public school system without actually having kids in public schools.

These elite private schools have tuitions higher than the per capita national income of all but 20 countries (I checked). But that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the global community. Just not the whole global community. The good parts. The parts without smelly food, limping weird kids, and poor people. And the students they’re turning out are absolutely prepared for a global community. But it’s a gated community.

For schools that make such strong claims about diversity, it’s awfully hard to get data on their demographics. And it seems to be impossible to get information on their expulsion, suspension, and attrition rates -their filters. Of course, if they published it, it might cause a minor scandal, like the when data from Chicago’s charter schools went public. That was especially embarrassing, because even while filtering out the difficult kids, they still didn’t do much better than the traditional schools – the very places where those filtered-out kids land. Charter schools. For parents who want choice. But not informed choice.

All of this makes me feel incredibly smug, since my kids go to a Chicago public school. No filtering here! Well, except for the fact that it’s a magnet school. Getting into a magnet school lottery required some work: a year before my son was to enter kindergarten, we attended information sessions, did research at the library, and filled out a bunch of forms. It was pretty confusing, and I’m a native English speaker used to dealing with public bureaucracy. And the end result is that my kids’ school is much wealthier and whiter than nearly any Chicago neighborhood school.

Nevertheless, our school is facing cuts like every other publically funded school, including the charters. Forrest Claypool, former Cook County Board member, head of the park district, and the CTA, appointee of our angry little Democratic mayor, is asking parents to to lobby the Democratically-controlled state legislature for education funding. You would think a veteran Democrat serving as CEO of the largest school system in the state would take the lead on that. But why should our leaders lead? This is Chicago. Claypool’s predecessor is going to jail, so he’s actually an improvement.  Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Illinois House, who has been in power almost non-stop since 1983, and the Governor, still test driving the office he bought last year, are in an epic pissing match. So this seems unlikely to end well.

Meanwhile, my sons get to ride the listing ship of public education. Nothing is the same year to year. Programs start and then are eliminated. Same with staff. Young teachers have kids and leave for the suburbs, because there’s no guarantee they can get their kids through the lottery process. Oh, and there was that teacher’s strike.

My wife and I sent our kids to public schools for a lot of reasons, but chief among them was this: we knew it was going to be a bit rough navigating the system, and we knew they’d meet people who weren’t like them. We thought that going through CPS would prepare them for adult life in the actual global community – tremendously diverse and more than a little challenging at times, but ultimately rewarding if you pay attention and invest some effort.

It turns out we were right about preparing them for adult life, but we had the context all wrong. In Chicago, a fair amount of money can buy you a gleaming existence free of the systemic failure, difficult people, and occasional unpleasantness everyone else contends with daily. Those without the means do their best to play within the system, selecting among bad choices and watching the value of their efforts steadily decline.

When I think about it that way, I figure that we probably didn’t do a great job preparing kids for the world, but we did a stupendous job of preparing them for America.

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Should I Vote for Chuy Again?

I didn’t vote for Rahm “Tiny Dancer” Emanuel Tuesday night. I don’t like his lack of transparency, his fondness for privatizing public education, and probably dozens of other things. I generally just don’t like him. So I voted for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and made lots of jokes about throwing my vote away. Ha ha. It turns out that Tiny Dancer is going to face Chuy again in a run-off in April. Tiny Dancer failed to convince 51% of Chicagoans to vote for him. Let me say that a different way. Tiny Dancer failed to convince 51% of the 32.7% of registered voters that showed up– or ~237,000 of ~464,000 – to vote for him.

He usually only extends one finger

He usually only extends one finger

Here’s one thing the voters did agree on: Chicago should have an elected school board. Close to 90% of voters supported the idea. Well, 90% of the voters in the 37 of 50 wards that had the issue on the ballot. Not all of them did, because the Chicago City Council prevented the issue from appearing across the city.  Nevertheless, surveys show that the idea is popular among Chicagoans.

Let’s set aside the fact that changing the nature of school board is a matter of state law. And we should set aside the fact that Bruce Rauner, who is enjoying  the Governor’s seat he bought last year, is against it. Let’s also set aside that this is Chicago, home of the Cubs. We like hopeless wastes of time. Oh, also: the irony of wanting to vote for another local office when we’re barely bothering to turn out to vote for the current offices in the first place.

I get the idea: an elected school board would put a check on the power of the Tiny Dancer.  We need an elected body in Chicago that could reign in his autocratic ways and give a voice to the people! Time for a civics lesson, neighbors. We have an elected body. It’s called the City Council. It has 50 aldermen, each of whom are elected every four years. It’s a giant rubber stamp for the mayor. In the first two years of Tiny Dancer’s term, the council voted with him 93% of the time. From April 2013 until November 2014, this slipped – to 89%! At the time, his approval rating among Chicagoans who weren’t aldermen was at around 35%. Does the City Council know something we don’t?

My former alderman, confused about what “tabling” meant

No, they don’t. Let me explain. Have you ever met a Chicago alderman or seen them speak in public? I have. These aren’t the most articulate people in the world. They’re not the smartest. They’re not the people you’d want setting economic or fiscal policy. Probably wouldn’t want them working on issues of criminal or social justice. They’re also not strong on issues of ethics, leadership, or vision. If they walk and chew gum, they might trip. What are they good at? Inheriting their father’s seat. Also, if there’s an abandoned car in front of your house or the muffler shop on the corner didn’t shovel the sidewalk, they can help with that. Oh, collecting big pensions. They’re great at that.

Mostly, though, they’re good at getting re-elected. Even with Tuesday’s record number of run-offs, I’d bet that most of the incumbents will win. Because, you know, there’s an abandoned car. Why would anyone think that another elected body in Chicago would behave differently than the one we currently have? Are candidates for elected office suddenly not going to need to raise money, be subject to the influence of special interests, or not need a job (or lawyer) for their kid? Since we’re going to have to change the state law anyway, can we mandate that candidates for the school board not be dissembling, mendacious, pocket-lining windbags?

I’m going to guess not. So why did the guy I did vote for, Chuy Garcia, support the idea? Because it’s what a city that increasingly dislikes its current mayor wants to hear. It’s what the teachers’ union wants. And it’s an easy position for Chuy to take, because it’s a state issue. You know what else is an easy position for Chuy to take? He supports keeping the city council at its current size. Chicago has one of the country’s largest city councils, and we could save millions if we cut it in half. But Chuy isn’t going to say that, because to do so might threaten the jobs of Chicago aldermen, and if he becomes mayor, he’s going to want some of that hot, hot, rubber-stamp action. Chuy told the Sun Times that the current size is important to the body “functioning” as a legislative body. I don’t know what one has to do with the other, nor if the guy with an outside chance of being our next mayor knows what “functioning” means.

You know what else is an easy position for Chuy to take? He wants to hire 1,000 more police. Tiny Dancer said the same thing in 2011, but didn’t do it. Chuy hasn’t said how he’s going to pay for it. But it’s what many in the city that’s suffered an appalling number of shootings wants to hear. And it’s what the police union wants. Chicagoans probably don’t want to hear — as this article points out – that more police not only means more money, it also means more arrests. Neither mayoral candidate wants to talk about measures that also might reduce crime: more intrusive policing and more people ratting out their friends, neighbors, and family members.

Then I go like this and $35 billion appears

Then I go like this and $35 billion appears

I voted for Chuy. But here’s the thing: Chicago has an unfunded pension obligation of $35 billion, or as I like to think of it, a per capita obligation of almost $13,0000 per person. I spent two days looking, and I can’t find anything concrete about Chuy’s plan to fix it  – to say nothing of how he plans to pay for the Christmas morning he’s planning for Chicago if he gets elected.

This matters — not because I’m some conservative that thinks government should run like a business – but because I’m a parent and a property owner in Chicago with two kids in public schools. I want lower crime, more jobs, better schools and infrastructure that moves better than an old man’s urethra. I want them for today, and I want them 20 years from now. But more than anything else, I want to live in a city that realizes these things cost money. A giant debt and an abysmal credit rating threaten our future. Being billions of dollars in the hole means life as a taxpayer is going to get even more expensive and we’re going to experience fewer city services, not more. The pension problem is there precisely because let elected officials make promises they couldn’t fulfill based on math they didn’t (or more likely, couldn’t) do.

I guess what I’m asking for our is that our candidates be realistic. But then I realize, why bother? Our citizens aren’t interested in being realistic. Go Cubs.

 

*thanks for reading this blog. I hope you’ll subscribe and use the comments section below to tell me why I’m wrong about Chuy. Because I hope I am. 

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