Mayor Moses, and that coming racial brawl over the city’s ward remap, the Chicago Way

By John Kass

She doesn’t call herself Mayor Moses. At least, not yet. And I’ve been calling her Mayor Wokefoot, but now I’m wondering if I have to just drop it and start all over again.

Because–in an as-yet undiagnosed fit of political lunacy (or bad speechwriting) –Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot channeled Moses at least five or six times in her recent bizarre tax-and-spend budget address. She compared the plight of Chicago residents to the suffering of the Israelites, while offering a Promised Land if the city keeps faith with her vision.

What happened to the Israelites “seem not unlike what we have endured over these past 18 months—hunger, plagues and death,” she said, invoking Moses, again and again, as if she were some tiny, cigar-smoking, leftist Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments.”

So, I suppose that all Chicago has to do to reach the Promised Land is to re-elect Lightfoot in 2023 and build the Obama Temple of Love and Fealty?

Oh, Mayor Moses. Let our people go, the ones who haven’t already voted with their feet and left town. And fire your speechwriter.

“Well, that was an interesting choice. She used all sorts of material in her hour-long budget speech,” said the 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, our guest on The Chicago Way podcast. “I can’t speak to whether or not she was she ever was claiming to be Moses. But she certainly has challenges, and Moses sure did.”

Reilly touched on the many challenges facing the city and Lightfoot’s re-election prospects in our discussion on The Chicago Way. What he said, and how he said it, caused me to think out a column or two about the shape of things to come. It’s why I like doing the podcast with my friend and co-host Jeff Carlin of WGN radio. You can listen to the entire discussion here.

Reilly says that crime is the number one challenge for Lightfoot. He is absolutely correct. She is under water in the polls on crime. And her endorsement of catch-and-release Cook County States’ Atty. Kim Foxx doesn’t help her.

Yes, violent crime is the number one issue. Children are being slaughtered in the neighborhoods and tourists are afraid to go downtown. The broken glass has been swept off Michigan Avenue from the George Floyd riots, where in large Democratic cities, the administrations of Black liberal mayors were devoured by the neo-Marxist left. Lightfoot has not recovered. And neither has downtown.

But there is another challenge for the mayor and for the city and it’s coming up fast, as mayoral campaigns begin to take shape:

The remap of Chicago’s 50 wards.

If you thought the debate over renaming Lake Shore Drive was racially fraught—with white liberal aldermen taunted as “white supremacists” – please understand that one was symbolic.

But the remap is about power, with the city divided in what amounts to uneven thirds.

Chicago has lost considerable African American population as Blacks flee crime and violence. Latinos are ascendant. And white aldermen—both white liberals and the few moderate/conservative Democrats who remain—are stuck between them. There is no Asian ward.

Latinos have long been treated as the little brothers of Black politics, repeatedly pushed aside and told to wait their turn. They’re tired of waiting for power under the Democratic Party umbrella, which views all voters through the cynical prism of race and Identity Politics.

So, what happens when Blacks use race and Latinos use race to leverage each other and the drama and the yammering is covered by woke newsrooms that have undergone racial sensitivity sessions led by experts of Identity Politics?

I guess we’ll see, won’t we?

Perhaps Chicago will become the mayor’s promised land. Or maybe the ward remap fight descends into angry racial politics in the city of tribes, as the 2023 mayoral campaigns take shape.

The smart money bets on chaos. And as potential mayoral candidates gear up those campaigns, comes the remap.

“This is going to be a fascinating remap exercise this time,” Reilly said. “I was a part of the remap 10 years ago, and that went pretty smooth. There was a substantial drop in African American population 10 years ago. But the Black caucus was able to work out a relatively good deal with the Latino caucus to preserve much of what they had. But since that time, there’s no way around the fact that there are a quarter million fewer African Americans in Chicago than there were, and you can’t justify having that many seats in the council with that kind of precipitous population drop.”

The aldermen have been studying maps, including a heat map of the city overlaid with a ward map, showing where population loss has occurred.

“And the vast majority of it has occurred on the south and southwest sides of the city,” Reilly said. “On the South Side, the 34th ward, Ald. Austin’s ward, which has 11,000 people in it. And it should have 55,000 to 60,000 people in it. That is incredible. And so, I think the likelihood is that one or two of the African American wards will have to be folded into others to keep them whole, and you will see Latino gains and the Caucasian represented seats will remain static, and there is the possibility that Chinatown could get its own Asian- American seat if the boundary is drawn properly. It’s going to be an interesting food fight.”

 Years ago, remapping was done rather selfishly, by a few pink guys at their kitchen tables in Southwest Side bungalows. They protected themselves first and let minorities fight it out. But rule of the big bosses has ended. Now it’s every little boss for himself.

If 10 aldermen push for a city-wide referendum, they could usher in the so-called “nuclear option” with the people of Chicago voting on a new map. Some experts think this would involve “the people” Others think it would be pure insanity. I think it would be quite illuminating, at least for the rest of the country.

The Chicago City Council has never been known for its decorum. I covered it years ago, before, during and long after “Council Wars,” when the mayor and the aldermen talked openly about punching each other in the mouth. Then the Outfit stepped in. “Council Wars” ended, and things settled down for a bit. Through it all, the city’s business got done.

But the Outfit is long gone. And the city’s business does not get done. Lightfoot is overwhelmed, and the council now involves neo-Marxist aldermen acting out like attention starved teenagers warring with liberals and what remains of the old moderate Democrats.

If it gets to a referendum, it could get messy, Reilly says. I agree. The downtown business community, the various business organizations, organized labor and all other special interests will become involved. The political consultants will make fortunes.

The old political infrastructure of the Democratic organization is gone. What remains in terms of street muscle are the gang cliques and massive public government worker unions that lean far left, like the Chicago Teachers’ Union.

“The public employee unions have an incredible track record in field work,” Reilly said. “They are good organizers. And they know how to work precincts. And you’re right, the old infrastructure is essentially gone…It could really get messy and super expensive and confusing…I’m hoping we can avoid that.”

You’ve heard people talk about legislation as the horrors of sausage making?

I spent years in meat coolers at our family owned supermarkets, the perfect training for a political writer. Depending on how this remap business goes, it could be like watching sausage being made, but with a few, sad multi-racial fingers caught in the grinder for extra flavor, with the public worker unions ruling Chicago as they’ve long wanted.

And the taxpayers? They’re like the ground fennel seeds. Their job is to make the sausage tasty.

It is odd that Lightfoot would use such Biblical imagery as the vehicle to rehabilitate herself. The city is in crisis, fiscally and politically. Chicago doesn’t need a Moses or a messianic figure to save it. Politics seeks messianic figures, but politics isn’t reality. Politics is theater, showbiz, tableaus of talking meat puppets. And all that that has little or nothing to do with a great city in desperation, locked in spasms of violence and cynicism.

 Chicago needs a manager.

You’d think Lightfoot would know by now that exhausted Chicago taxpayers have little faith in politicians to lead them on a perilous journey to promised land in a flailing politician’s dreams.

But like the Israelites, Chicago votes with its feet.

(Copyright 2021 John Kass)

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