CHICAGO – I’ve only been back in the town where I was born and went to college a few hours now but my first impressions are in in line with my lasting impression: Chicago is a city that works, a city its people take pride in.
Mostly, I think, that’s because guys named Daley have known how to use power to get things done. When Daleys are running the show, neighborhoods regenerate, mass transit serves the masses, the establishment somehow shares a vision of a greater good that keeps Chicago vital and alive and the people proudly see themselves as Chicagoans.
Don’t get me wrong. Chicago is not a model of the kind of engaged democratic community I believe in.
Many of the politicians and other bigshots are crooks and some of them even go to jail for the their crimes. All too often jobs and contracts are awarded on the basis of patronage and insider connections. Ward healers operate like neighborhood councils in L.A. except for one difference: They have the clout to make sure things get done for the neighborhood.
Corruption greases the skids to get things done. I often heard Chicagoans say this of the original Mayor Richard Daley: “Sure he steals but he gives some of it back to us unlike those other guys.”
Of course, corruption inevitably gets out of hand and reformers are needed to clean up the mess. But reformers don’t pave the streets, get traffic moving or solve any of the other great urban problems. And that may be some of what’s wrong with L.A.
Reformers most of a century ago created a city government in which nobody really had power. Their goal was clean government no matter what it cost. As the years went by, L.A. boasted it was a clean city not like Chicago where nearly everyone is on the take.
I remember when I was in college the time that a cop stopped me for a headlight being out and took a look around the car and then asked me if I knew how much a ticket would cost and whether I had the money to pay it. I said all I had was $10 or so and he said that would be enough.
Now that kind of corruption is a bad thing and I’m sure one way or another it still happens in Chicago. But there’s another kind of corruption that’s worse and that’s L.A. style.
As far as I know, the problem in L.A. isn’t that we’ve got crooked politicians or crooked cops. It’s the system that’s corrupt so they’re all crooks. The pols, the city workers, the contractors, developers, influence peddlers and influence abusers — they’re all on the take. But we (or I should say the politicians) have legalized this form of corruption by calling bribery by another name “access” so it’s all perfectly legal.
And to be honest, that doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that they don’t deliver on the one thing that matters to us all: Solving the city’s problems, making life better for the people.
Public corruption that doesn’t get the job done for the public is truly a crime.
For my money, the only answer to that is for the communities to organize and mobilize to look after themselves.
Unlike Chicago where Mayor Daley gives some of the money back to people, in L.A. ,the people are going to have to take the money back themselves.