Monday, March 30, 2015

Rahm or Chuy: A Crisis of Choice

I like to think I'm a gal who pays attention. So I've been circling the mayoral campaign in Chicago for most of the months of its duration, and I'm still not entirely decided.

I'd like to tell my teacher friends that Rahm is an ass and for that reason alone I can vote for the 'anyone-but' candidate. The truth is being an ass is not always the wrong thing for some jobs. We may not like the change Rahm has implemented, or the manner in which he has shoved it down our throats, but I do wonder at the faulty notion that gentlemanly demeanor would have somehow assuaged the pain of change. It would not.

If charters and selective enrollment and wall-to-wall IB and de-funding language and SPED programming will not be the answers (they will not) we will learn it on the backs of our children, yes. We will learn it just as we have learned that fiscal mismanagement, protection of bad teachers, and institutionalized poverty also screw our children. Those problems were here before he got here, not helped much by the hard-to-take-too CTU leader, Karen Lewis. Her moral outrage was wasted on me most of the time. Whether I think he's made good choices or not, I don't lay the entire CPS mess at Rahm's feet; it's not a one-issue election for me.

So then I ask: Polishing up downtown? Adding big business? George Lucas? Is that who we are? I look at the sloppy, inefficient management of city services, the quality of care I get as a resident of this city, and I ask 'Is this the best there is?' No. It's not the city I feel in my bones and blood, and I live on the north side. If I lived on the south side I might wonder if I lived here at all.

Chuy's a little more 'city', right? He is. But Chuy doesn't know jack about education, from what I can tell. He doesn't seem to be super-clear headed about anything, actually. He's awfully nice and seems at times less ready to be pushed over than what we might think, but most often he's more affable than alert. I suppose that works well at the county level.

I like that he sounds like us, still lives with us - I like that a lot, actually. But who among us thinks he's the guy to shove his foot down Rauner's throat? (Ironically, Rahm could and won't because they're aligned on too many platforms.) I've prayed many times for Madigan's atrophy to finally force his retirement, now I hope he can hang in there for a few more precious cycles or all is surely lost.

Chuy's ED experience with a civic organization seems to have held great promise until trouble struck and the finances fell apart. Having been involved in a similar circumstance myself, I can tell you that managing a community service-oriented endeavor during a global economic free-fall is noble work and not for the weak-minded, no matter the outcome. I don't fault him his troubles, as has been the story. It was a hard time for everyone.

The truth is, Chuy says all the right things - stop starving the neighborhoods, put cops on the streets, give people your time and attention - it's the least a mayor can do. Yes, yes! But if it were so easy, wouldn't everyone be doing it? Where is the money coming from? I don't feel satisfied.

He says he can have the hard conversations with all the stakeholders and his voice will be respected because he is not adversarial in his approach. Friend, if you try to screw thousands of people out of their retirement funds, the situation will be adversarial, just take my word for it.

So. Chuy or Rahm?

The truth is there's a cultural identity crisis at hand, and these two candidates could not be more perfect for its poster.

Are we a little angry, a little bitter about being shorter than our siblings, hungry for more money and more polish to neutralize the dark we carry? Or are we a little hapless, the kind uncle, soft in the middle with strong, working hands? Are we earnest but ill-prepared?

I waited for my answer at the last debate; I paraphrase the question: "Tell me why someone should stay in Chicago - with all these problems you intend to address as mayor - why should someone stay?"

And neither man could answer that question convincingly. So neither deserves my vote.

I stay because this is a city that works - that toils - and continues to do so no matter how many jewels you hang on our collar. I stay because what is rough about us is just as beautiful as what is shiny, we have it all and life is like that. I stay because for every crappy teacher I've encountered in CPS, there are twenty amazing, devoted, wonderful, sincere, and smart teachers entirely invested in children others don't even think about. Where would I be without them? I stay because my city vibrates with the variety of interest and amenity that is always bursting at its seams, stretching, teetering. My city gets dirty, she cries, sweats,  screeches along the rails and then arrives safely, strong, flush with victory. I love, love, love my city, her color, her language, her wicked politics.

The guy who gets that, gets my vote.

I'm writing in Daley.

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