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Ups and Downs - Fall 2020


I think we can all agree—it’s been a rough year for everyone. But for Chicago, it has been even worse. By most measures, the city had been under-performing its peer—group of other, large American cities for at least a decade — losing population, adding fewer jobs and always in the public eye for all the wrong reasons, including entrenched political corruption and a sky high murder rate.

But 2020 pushed all of these negatives to new levels of bad. First the pandemic, then George Floyd followed quickly by not one, but two rounds of looting and vandalism. To make it all worse, this was occurring at the same time that the city was under relentless attack, both externally and internally. From the outside, these attacks came mainly from a hostile Trump Administration that delighted in making Chicago exhibit A in its disparagement of urban America.

But it was the attacks from within that, in my opinion, have done the greater damage. These attacks have been orchestrated by a newly energized far left that, ironically seems to have gotten its mojo in reaction to the extreme policies of the Trump Administration. Trump’s far right and Chicago’s far left have more in common than either of them want you to know. Both have adopted the same divide and conquer tactics, and both have put all their faith in magical thinking that can’t be swayed by fact or truth.

With the national election apparently resolved in Joe Biden’s favor, the attacks from the White House will stop. A friendlier regime in Washington could be an opportunity for the city to put its house back in order with at least the possibility of some, much needed federal relief. But it is an open question whether a regime change in Washington will be enough to change the dynamic of Chicago’s downward spiral and slow the steady flow of people, jobs and employers out of the city and the state.

There’s so much reason for concern. As I look at the political and economic landscape of the city today, I see much more risk than opportunity. Trump may no longer be able to use his White House bully pulpit to slime us but, in many ways, Trump was never the city’s biggest problem.

More worryingly, I see little indication that “the adults in the room” are capable of showing the kind of political leadership the city and state so desperately need to right the ship. Michael Madigan still clings to power, despite ample evidence of his corruption, always more concerned with preserving his privilege and super Democratic majority than facing the budgetary problems that have been so devastating to the local and state economies. Closer to home, the political far left continues to stoke anger and resentment among lower income and disadvantaged groups, using property owners as their primary punching bag.

Now, if it was just a few crazy voices among many, this would not be a problem. But the influence of the far left greatly exceeds their numbers, with both Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot seemingly afraid to contradict anything they say for fear that they may be perceived as less than sufficiently “progressive” to win reelection.

Here is the disturbing truth. If the far left ever actually gets what it wants, they will find that they have taken control of a wasteland of their own creating, not the brash and dynamic city we all think of when we conjure up images of Chicago. The demands of the far left will inevitably push the city and state even further toward financial ruin, pushing out higher income people, employers and investors. This is exactly the downward spiral we currently find ourselves in. Expect it to get worse if no one will stand up to the far left’s vengeful and destructive demands.

Even now, as the downtown residential market is hemorrhaging people and apartment rents are in free fall, tenant groups and their political allies are reorganizing to make yet another push for the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, a lifting of the statewide bad on rent control, and a ruinous revamping of the ARO. These are all self inflicted wounds on a city whose economy is already in tatters.

The leaders of the “social justice” movement clearly believe that they must burn down the current order for something better to emerge in its place. To me, this is just a desire for revenge disguised as a political movement. It is the opposite of the bridge building that needs to occur for the city’s diverse population to realize its full potential.

Sadly, the majority of people with more mainstream views has fallen silent—afraid to say anything against their more radical opponents, fearful that they will be called racists or worse.

So, I guess this is as good a time as any to say that I am one of the people who has raised the white flag. I recently bought a house in Madison and will be relocating soon. I will maintain a residence in Chicago for at least a few more years as I wrap up my business here and move closer to full retirement. While I refuse to give up entirely on the city I love so much and have lived in for more than half my life, I can no longer pretend that the storm clouds on the horizon will be kept forever at bay. I believe the storm is coming, and I fear the damage it will do.

Let me be blunt. I have never been so fearful about the city’s future. I feel increasingly helpless as I watch our elected officials make bad choices that further erode the city’s shattered reputation, drive out investors and capital, and do harm to all who live here.

I hope it can get better. I believe we always have the ability to get back on the right track. But how much damage must occur before people finally wake up and recognize what is happening? I believe we are at a cross roads and time is running out.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.


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