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Ups and Downs - Spring 2023

 

 

I’m a big fan of the NPR Politics Podcast. Every Friday, they end their podcast with “Can’t Let It Go,” a roundtable where all the commentators tell listeners what it is that happened during the past week that they just can’t let go of – in politics or in life!

For me, the thing I can’t let go is the outcome of the 2023 municipal elections in Chicago. Being the nerd that I am, what really interests me is what it says about the city and its changing demographics.

In my early days, I used to come to Chicago with my parents to visit my grandparents and other relatives. Back then, Chicago was a fairly conservative, largely blue-collar city dominated by two groups: one that was white and working class and the other that was African-American and generally lower-income. Chicago was a Democratic stronghold then and now. But “Democrat” meant something different in the Chicago of my youth. It was synonymous with The Machine, and the lines between the parties were much blurrier then than they are today.

When I was a kid, Chicago’s economy was still dominated by manufacturing. The city was still recovering from the 60s riots, businesses were moving to the suburbs or away from Illinois entirely and “white flight” was still a thing. The future of the city looked grim. True, even then there was a “Liberal Lakefront.” But it was a tiny sliver of the city that clung closely to the shores of Lake Michigan and pretty much disappeared once you got north of Irving Park Road.

Fast-forward to today. The “Liberal Lakefront” has swallowed up much of the North and near Northwest sides. Areas left for dead around downtown Chicago are now booming. The black/white divisions of my youth have morphed into a true rainbow coalition. Today, it is the Latino and Asian populations that are growing the fastest, and no single ethnic group can claim more than about a third of the city’s overall population.

Yes, the city is much more diverse, but it is hardly more integrated. The middle class has pretty much been driven out of Chicago, replaced by a few very wealthy enclaves and more very poor ones that remain segregated and apart.

These are the changes that set the stage for the just-concluded election cycle. The most ardent fans of Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson were not the African-American or other minority communities on the South and West Sides. In the general election on February 28th, Johnson’s biggest supporters, by far, were young people living in the gentrifying neighborhoods on the far North Side, the near Northwest Side, Pilsen and Hyde Park. While this demographic was ethnically diverse, most of these voters were either white or Latino.

Johnson certainly picked up significant support on the South and West Sides in the runoff election on April 4th. But these largely African-American voters were not early supporters, mostly preferring incumbent Lori Lightfoot or challenger Willie Wilson in the first round.

Contrast this with what happened in the last (and only other) election of a black male to the Mayor’s office. In 1983, Chicago’s mayoral elections were partisan. Harold Washington emerged as the Democratic candidate after eking out a narrow plurality in a three-way primary with Richard M. Daley and Jane Byrne. Bernard Epton, a little-known (but notably white) Republican candidate, nearly defeated Washington in the general election where whites mostly voted for Epton and blacks almost exclusively voted for Washington.

As a left-of-center Democrat and a believer in Democracy, I’m willing to give Mayor-elect Johnson a chance. Many of his positions on equity and inclusion are positions I both share and support. But as I always tell my Democratic (and Republican) friends – I am a Democrat but not a Communist. Where I part ways with the far left of my party is their conviction that Capitalism is the root of all evils and cannot be fixed. The most radical of them believe the entire Capitalist system must be overthrown and destroyed before we can create a truly just society.

While I agree that Capitalism has created many inequities and that the current wealth gap between rich and poor is far too wide, I am not convinced that Capitalism cannot be made to work better and create more opportunities for all Americans. I am also, and have always been, extremely skeptical about calls for Revolution. Historically, the record is not good. For every American Revolution (which had its own problematic outcomes), there seem to be a lot more French Revolutions where chaos and upheaval are the primary results. The danger with Revolution is – you may not like what you have, but you also never know what you are going to get and there’s a good chance it will be worse.

For me, personally, I will hope that Johnson can make Chicago a more equitable place with less segregation and more economic opportunity for all its residents. But I’m not holding my breath. My fear is that Johnson will attack the business community and raise taxes on wealthier citizens to appease his base. In so doing, he will drive businesses and people out of the city, making it that much harder to do anything good for those he wants to help.

On a personal level, I am an owner or part-owner of properties within city limits. Now that Johnson has won, I am more convinced than ever that the time to sell has come. I will not sit idly by waiting for Just Cause Eviction or Rent Control legislation to happen. The risk that these (and other) laws are coming is just too great. Let someone else take that chance. My business partners and I have made the decision to pull out of Chicago, Cook County and Illinois.

If the new, younger, smarter and much more left-leaning Chicago wants what Mayor-elect Johnson is offering, then more power to them. In Progressive strongholds, like Rogers Park and Logan Square, the voters have spoken loud and clear. But, as someone who has been around a while and seen what a bad election can bring, I do not want to wait until it is too late to exit. If that’s too Capitalistic of me, my apologies. Unfortunately, it’s also the economically rational decision that must be made.

 

 

 

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