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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Will the Citizens of Chicago Rise Up?

Chicago has been in the news lately. That's because the city's government has taken an extraordinary step. On August 17th, the most random of days, the city shut down most of its services.

The City of Chicago is basically closed for business on Aug. 17, a reduced-service day in which most city employees are off without pay. City Hall, public libraries, health clinics and most city offices will be closed.

Emergency service providers including police, firefighters and paramedics are working at full strength, but most services not directly related to public safety, including street sweeping, will not be provided.


Now, as anchors report this story, they miss the context and irony of all of this. On October 2nd, the city will find out if it will host the 2016 Olympics. That will be a multi billion Dollar commitment. So, the same city that can't seem to figure out how to pay their city employees on August 17th will somehow figure out a way to finance a multi billion Dollar operation.

That is the sort of city government that we have in Chicago. It's one that can somehow find money to finance the Olympics but not to finance city government on August 17th. I am finding a lot parallels between the debate raging over health care in America and the debate over the Olympics in Chicago.

In the health care debate, the elites in D.C. are determined to impose health care on the public even though the public overwhelmingly doesn't want it. In Chicago, the elites are determined to impose the Olympics on Chicago even the public overwhelmingly doesn't want it.

Both debates also come down to an issue of trust. In the health care debate, the government has made a series of promises: you'll keep your health insurance, your taxes won't go up, health care won't be rationed. In Chicago, the government has also made a series of promises: no tax payer money will be used, no one will be displaced, no neighborhoods will be adversely, and there won't be any corruption.

In the health care debate, the public is very cynical about D.C. politicians and they don't believe any of the promises and assurances. In Chicago, the people are even more cynical and they definitely don't believe the assurances.

In the health care debate, the people have risen up. In town halls over the country, citizens are making a very visible and vocal display of their displeasure at town halls everywhere. They are voicing their displeasure by overloading the House of Representatives website and crashing it. They are voicing their displeasure by going to tea parties all over Chicago.

In Chicago, the citizen revolt has been rather tame. There have been a series of town hall meetings at each of the 50 wards. I've only been to one of these meetings but the citizens voiced their displeasure much like at the health care town halls. It will take more, a lot more, to get the politicians to cede to the will of the people. It won't take just a tea party and some tough questions at a town hall. It will take a citizen revolt in which the citizens storm the offices of their alderman and demand that this get stopped.

There is a way to stop this bid. There is a bill in the City Council that would limit the exposure of the city to $500 million. (that's because the city council already passed a bill in 2007 to allocate $500 million for the effort) If that bill passes, the bid is effectively dead. That's because the IOC demands that a city would cover all expenses beyond those agreed upon before hand. Limiting the city's exposure to $500 million would mean Chicago couldn't live up to that agreement.

In Chicago, our schools are failing. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Our hospitals are grossly underfunded. The city's budget is in such disarray that the city took August 17th off. Yet, the same city wants to spend the next seven years planning for a two week party. Of course, it isn't the "city" that wants to do this as much as it's the city's elites, the politicians, that want this badly. These politicians are trying to shove the Olympics down the throats of the city's citizens.

The citizens revolted in the health care debate and now health care reform is dying a slow and painful death. Chicago's Olympic bid deserves the same fate, and it will take a similarly intense citizen revolt to make it happen. Will the city of Chicago similarly rise up?

1 comment:

sweets said...

On the 17 August health clinics and most city offices will be closed.