Judis on Chicago: No Solutions in Sight

It’s understandable that most progressive commentary on the Chicago mayoral race involves a heavy emphasis on Rahm Emanuel’s personality. He’s always had a tendency to personalize political conflict himself, to the point of courting demonization for years.

But it’s sobering to read John Judis’ take on the Chicago situation at National Journal today. Judis flatly argues that neither Emanuel or his critics (or his runoff opponent Chuy Garcia) has ideas adequate to the city’s problems. After an extensive critique of the incumbent’s approach to both the structural economic crisis in Chicago and the burgeoning fiscal crisis, Judis has this grim assessment of what the campaign has generated:

In his campaign this year, Emanuel has proposed broadening taxes to include services by accountants, lawyers, and other professionals, and also establishing a casino, whose revenue would be dedicated to meeting pension obligations. He has said he opposes raising property taxes, but one of his chief lieutenants on the city council acknowledged that the city would eventually have to do so. Higher property taxes, coupled with modest retiree benefit cuts and an increase in city-worker contributions, seem like the only plausible solution—even though this approach runs afoul of the public’s deep aversion to tax increases and public workers’ resistance to any reduction in their benefits.

Garcia, meanwhile, has proposed measures that, in Paul Green’s words, are “either illegal or impossible.” He has said he wants to impose a graduated state income tax, which is illegal under the state constitution and would require a constitutional amendment passed by a three-fifths vote in the state Legislature. (Garcia’s main backer, the Chicago Teachers Union, wants to impose a financial-transactions tax on city firms, which could drive one of the Chicago’s most important industries out of town.) Garcia has also said he opposes reducing pension benefits, which would put the onus of resolving the crisis entirely on taxpayers. In short, if there is a viable alternative to Emanuel’s approach, Garcia is not airing it.

Eight days from the runoff, that’s not likely to change. So it’s basically a matter of trust, and relatively few voters are much in doubt about Rahm Emanual one way or the other.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.