No Chicago Rebrand Needed, Education and Public Safety Above Cheap PR

By Erin Geary

March 8, 2024

In a February 26 article by Crain’s Chicago Business entitled “What does Chicago need next? A rebranding,” writer John Pletz argues that Chicago’s leaders are in defense mode rather than offense mode when describing Chicago. He claims that Chicago is still reeling from a post-Covid world but should focus on its positives— it’s “an affordable big city that attracts a deep pool of educated talent.”

As the article goes on, there are many who are quoted also praising Chicago’s affordability compared to other large cities, its world class universities, and its draw of college graduates moving here due to Fortune 500 companies. They believe Mayor Brandon Johnson should be touting these accomplishments more. In so doing, even more businesses will be encouraged to make Chicago their new home.

Wake up to reality, Mr Pletz! It’s going to take more than a commercial of a smiling Mayor Johnson showing off Millennium Park, our beautiful skyline, and the sailboats on the lake to change the perception of Chicago. Review all the companies that have already left Chicago as United Airlines currently has one foot out the door.

Here’s a CWB Chicago headline from earlier this week that is one of many explanations for the exodus: “2 teens shot, 1 fatally, as ‘large group’ floods the South Loop.” Rather than doing the work of a mayor by hiring more police officers, endorsing Shot Spotter, and having a functional justice system, Johnson gets himself into problems when he consistently couches language to describe rampant teen takeovers and crime. Showing that his ignorance knows no bounds, he conflated the word mob with Mafia and stated, “This is not to obfuscate what has taken place, but we have to be careful when we use language to describe certain behavior. There’s history in this city. To refer to children as ‘baby Al Capones’ is not appropriate” (CWB Chicago).

To say that Johnson is a clueless stooge is an understatement. Elgin’s school system must be as poor as the Chicago Public Schools to have molded our latest mayor.

The domino effect of educational failures and city mismanagement leads to only one thing: criminals at younger and younger ages. How do provide opportunities other than criminal behavior without a proper education? How do you rebrand Chicago’s ineptness at containing criminals regardless of age? You can’t.

Chicago’s domino run begins foremost with its horrible education system that graduates those with insufficient reading and math abilities. That, in turn, means they are undereducated for jobs that are becoming more and more technical. It makes no difference if we are gaining young college graduates moving here from outside the city limits to work at top companies because that doesn’t assist those in the midst of Chicago’s generational poverty who need an education to succeed.

It’s elementary that graduating students from CPS with no real skills creates criminals. And, instead of addressing crime, these same criminals get a slap on the wrist and are back out on the streets. If equity is the way forward, then Chicago is doing well. For there isn’t an area unaffected by crime, which, inevitably, leads to retailers closing their doors creating an even greater vacuum in a job market that affects those with rudimentary education.

Though Pletz pointed out Chicago’s connection with twenty-five Fortune 500 companies, he also emphasized that two major cities in Texas are becoming more attractive—Dallas and Houston.

It’s obvious that without jobs not only is crime higher, there is a larger drain on the welfare system. Johnson’s answer is “Bring Chicago Home” to help create more affordable housing by placing a special tax on properties sold for more than $1 million. The referendum was put on the ballots for this month’s primary, Cook County Judge Kathleen Burke ruled against the proposal, and it was ordered that votes on “Bring Chicago Home” could not be counted. But in an about face, the Appellate Court reversed Burke’s ruling.

The notion that putting a transfer tax on properties sold above $1 million is going to endear Chicago to commercial businesses or become a magnet for wealthier persons to move to Chicago’s higher end residential markets is beyond comprehension. As it stands, office buildings are being sold at significant losses. A recent example is the Clybourn Corridor, purchased in 2004 for $89 million and put up for auction for $20 million—a 75% decrease in value.

When office properties are sold at a loss not only are investors like pension groups and hedge funds losing money, but they will be expected to pay a tax increase on the sales. There’s nothing attractive about raising taxes on an already failing real estate market.

Just when things couldn’t get worse, the flood of pesky migrants were welcomed with open arms under the assumption that the federal government would give billions to stem the crisis. That never materialized. It’s increasingly difficult to believe that Governor Pritzker or Mayor Johnson cares about our most vulnerable citizens when tax dollars are being spent on foreigners who entered illegally. Case in point, it was just announced that an additional $250 million dollars would be spent for the care of those that shouldn’t be here in the first place.

Meanwhile, smelling blood in the water, Jerry Reinsdorf wants $1 billion to create a new stadium for the Chicago White Sox. Reinsdorf knows he won’t live forever. So, he’s hopeful he can sweeten the deal for potential buyers with a new stadium. As Jon Greenberg wrote at, “An agreed-upon deal for public money for a new stadium will add significant value to the franchise, which is already estimated to be worth around $2 billion. So it makes sense he’s trying to square that away now. Think of this as estate planning.” Chicago’s desperation for a rebrand becomes leverage for those whose sports teams are synonymous with Chicago and where we derive much of our tourism.

Moreover, the best advantage to shine a brighter light on Chicago may also be its Achille’s heel. The Democratic National Convention is coming. But there’s a great deal of work to do in order to hide Chicago’s homeless encampments, rat infestation, shootings, thefts, carjackings, teenage pandemonium, and the inevitable protesters. There will undoubtedly be a heightened police presence for such a momentous occasion—even though there aren’t enough CPD officers on the force to handle day-to-day situations. Besides, hot August days do not bring out the best in our offenders under normal circumstances. Add the growing rift between low-income Chicagoans and illegal migrants to the un-air conditioned streets, and we will most likely see an increase in violence. It’s a gamble for Chicago, but our mayor is desperate for the $75 million in federal cash for enhanced security.

For a moment, let’s give Crain’s the benefit of the doubt. It is possible for Chicago stave off its image as an emerging Detroit filled with crime, critters and corruption. It’s all about marketing. First, we could embrace our crime. Chicago tour companies like Chicago Gangster Tour and Untouchable Tours already earn money off of the legacy of Al Capone. A new, modern take would be to travel in bulletproof buses to various unseemly neighborhoods at night.

Of course, tour guides will be sanctioned from calling our silly kids “baby Al Capone’s,” but I’m sure the patrons will easily make the correlation themselves while reveling in the action movie atmosphere. For those who are risk takers, they can be left in the ‘hood to see if they could outrun criminals. It would be Chicago’s version of Pamplona’s Running Of The Bulls.

Next, since we have been named the rattiest city and the city of feral cats, a Rats and Cats Café could be a great opportunity for pet adoption. Who wouldn’t want the challenge of taming a wild cat or rat? Just like us, all they need is love. Additionally, some wise entrepreneur could create The Rat Race with small, indoor tracks and bookies. It could be put next to Bally’s. Mayors and governors love gambling. Our lottery system is all about the kids.

Lastly, of course, is the possibility for people living on the North Side or western suburbs to adopt an impoverished Chicago family and bring them into their home. This would allow the equitable housing and equitable educational opportunities our Liberals vote for every election cycle to come to fruition. The Chicago Housing Authority, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Chicago Public Schools simply cannot handle the illegal migrants that they have prioritized and simultaneously help minority citizens to whom they have made unfulfilled promises for over a hundred years. Just think of how the one-percenters can be heroes instead of being demonized.

Yes, Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago merely needs to waste more time and spend more money on creativity to take all flaws presently known and use them to its advantage. Which marketing company is in the mayor’s back pocket?

Whew! It’s a huge undertaking to rebrand a city.

Ultimately, simpler, consistent, and positive ideas should begin with educating our children properly and giving them the skills to be functional members of society. Then, incentivize corporations with tax cuts to choose Chicago over other metropolitan cities while creating an environment where small, community businesses can thrive. Surprisingly, it appears that Crain’s Chicago Business needs to learn how an educated citizenry leads to marketable skills, which will bring businesses to Chicago thus creating jobs while increasing the need for real estate and, thereby, reducing crime.

Instead of a gimmicky rebrand, it would behoove Mayor Johnson and his team to look at what Dallas and Houston are doing correctly and follow suit. Otherwise, we will continue our downward trajectory toward becoming another Detroit.


Erin Geary has thirty years of teaching experience in Chicago Public Schools, suburban public schools, and the Catholic Archdiocese. After retiring, Erin’s interest in writing led her start her own Substack in 2022. Her account– Common Folk 365– is where she writes unabashedly about politics, education, and culture. Her columns can be found at,, and Erin is proud to have had her work featured on Real Clear Politics and is grateful for the fabulous writers and podcasters she has met on this unexpected, exciting journey.

Comments 42

  1. A perfumed garbage pile is still a garbage pile. I really expect the politicians and liberals to peddle this rebranding nonsense, but when will the voters wake up? Most likely, never – they really don’t care – they have given up on change through the ballot box. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

  2. Love the Pamplona idea!

    My marketing tagline for Chicago (to compete w/Vegas?): Come visit Chicago and have some fun – gamble, smoke some pot, and if you’re feeling the need for more excitement commit a crime, because in Chicago you won’t do any time.

    1. You laugh at these things – but they’re actually real in other places/times.

      I remember seeing a segment about similar tours in failing forever-communist east European countries (before the Soviet Union came undone). Tour busses crammed for foreign visitors could get a glimpse of life in a hard-core Communist nation: urban blight, continuous propaganda over loud-speakers, political posters everywhere, etc. You could see similar things in Franco’s Spain, but they’d probably lock up anyone trying to offer guided tours.

  3. Not proud of this, but I’ve written hundreds of taglines in my misbegotten professional life, so it’s easy to write ten more. My former home city would be a piece of cake, though a cake that would have tasted better a year ago.

    Chicago. It’s like Detroit, but more exciting.
    What happens here keeps happening here.
    Come to Chicago for the shows, stay for the hospitals.
    Chicago. We’ve got a ticket with your name on it!
    My kind of town, Chicago was . . . .
    Chicago’s streets festivals are real killers.
    Mayor Johnson welcomes you with a big, scared smile.
    When you “pack” for Chicago, pick the right caliber.
    Chicago has a tax just for you.
    City of the Big Shudders

    1. DB. Brilliant taglines! And a Yes to Erin mentioning Elgin public schools, luckily we finally got rid of the last Superintendent who somehow got the job BEFORE he was qualified, as he didn’t have his Doctorate! But now he’s the State Superintendent! At least King Brandon Johnson looks nice in his Elgin HS uniform that I found online! Maybe better for Chicago if the Sox could draft him and get him out of his current title. Concerning the nightly videos of people running around with guns, is it possible their simply auditioning for all those Chicago Police TV shows?

    2. One of Dave’s tag lines sez:
      “Chicago. It’s like Detroit, but more exciting.”
      I have a variation on that theme, and it’s been quite a while since it’s been true
      (although the Pistons are the exception)…

      “Chicago. It’s like Detroit, but with crummier sports teams.”

  4. Excellent read
    The city problems created by the leaders is coming to a suburb near you
    Oak Brook is getting closer to oak park
    Wheaton as well
    RIP Illinois

  5. Well, Al Capone ran with a street-gang before he became a mob boss. He was estimated to be responsible for over 200 gangland murders…over his lifetime! Today, that’s barely a 4-month homicide total in Chicago. So tagging today’s gang “youts” as little Al Capones is being kind.

    As for the “affordable city” part…yeah, no! A few years ago, we sold our middle-class home in Chicagoland and moved into a nice, friendly, crime-free part of the South: we immediately saved five figures-worth in annual real-estate taxes. The problem isn’t just the mayor, the City, Cook County and Illinois powers that be view all Chicago and Illinois businesses as pigeons waiting to be plucked clean to the benefit of corrupt politicians and their interests.

  6. You can’t even think about providing CPS kids with a quality education until you break the cycle of babies having babies. Until these kids have a stable home environment with parental involvement in the education process nothing will change.

  7. The insanity of pushing for a huge new tax on an industry that’s essentially on life support suggests that Mayor Johnson may have missed his calling in life as a veterinarian specializing in euthanasia.

  8. A not too distant cousin of mine, Robert Isham Randolph JR was known as “Young Bob” – his father reversed the flow of the Chicago River, fought all 4 years for the Confederacy too. Young Bob knew Al Capone – had a beer with him once when Capone called him out for “not being a reformer, not a dry”, said Capone. Young Bob led the Secret Six and was their only public figure – talk about cahunas. Capone later said “It was the Secret Six who brought me down, they made it so there was no more money in the game”. Young Bob also wrote about Capones finances, Capone made billions (top line) in YESTERDAYS money. But Young Bob also pointed out how Capone spread the wealth, in some cases nation wide – to hospitals, shelters and of course politicians, judges and Cops – he had a large payroll.

    In a measure of how far Chicago has fallen, I wish these “little Capones” could become like the big Capone! Why not

  9. Well said Erin. But unless Chicago voters get off their lazy butts and go vote, nothing will change. Look at the mayor they elected while 70% of them stayed home. They could have voted for an able, competent candidate, but he was white, so he was anathema to them. So, they got the mayor – aka Mayor Panix – they deserved – another empty suit like Obama, a community organizer with no management or organizational skills! Those criminals – pardon me – spirited youths – need to be held accountable, but our current system of “justice” is a farce. No cash bail frees them all to roam the streets once again. Instead of Gov Maximus looking for funds to build new stadiums, the entire state would be better served using those public funds to fund police departments once again, and let the cops do their jobs, while we revamp the DA and SA departments (bankrolled by Soros) to actually punish offenders. What a novel idea!!! The last thing Chicago needs is another sports stadium built with public funds. Let the billionaire owners foot the bill, if it’s such a great idea! Want to know why so many people are concealed carrying? Look around….

  10. “Lastly, of course, is the possibility for people living on the North Side or western suburbs to adopt an impoverished Chicago family and bring them into their home.” – Oh Yeah?, not long ago when Napervillans went democratic and voted Biden in, we saw “There is no room here for hate” signs in and around my neighborhood but not anymore since the migrants arrived in Chicago. And not one resident or councilman came forward to welcome a single migrant family at the request from Chicago. And considering DuPage was the first county to become a sanctuary county in Illinois.

  11. Well stated but complaining about state of Chicago is like the old line: beating a dead horse. It’s done, finished, kaput. There is no middle class anymore in the city. That was the backbone of its soul. When I grew up there it was cheap to live: taxes reasonable, city services and public schools good. Law enforcement likewise despite the lies about it. IT WAS FOR THE MOST PART SAFE. I no longer live in the rat hole and when I visit I’m shocked at the number of store front closings. On Northwest highway just before Park Ridge there is a great Italian deli: Tony’s. This is a solid middle class hood with city workers. 80% of store fronts SHUTTERED! Can’t afford it.
    The city is dead, so let’s stop moaning and groaning bcuz nothing will change. CHICAGO IS DETROIT, GET OVER IT. Let’s move on to something else.

    1. Chicagoans don’t want to face that reality. They cannot stomach the reality that “My Kind of Town” is now a thug infested diaspora of crime, corruption and administrative incompetence.

  12. “Ultimately, simpler, consistent, and positive ideas should begin with educating our children properly and giving them the skills to be functional members of society.” Crains is staffed with individuals who are no more educated than the kids coming from the CPS. Colleges and universities quit educating students back in the 50’s and 60’s.

  13. Great column!
    The schadenfreude bus tour needs to have an appropriately named conveyance.
    In homage to our host, perhaps something like “The Chumbolonipede”?
    (Can I get a hat sales concession?)

  14. I would consider taking a bus trip through war-torn areas of Chicago, as long as a manned, 50-caliber machine gun turret on the bus is included.

  15. For a woke liberal, there’s not much “feel good” from attempting to improve education. Results can be vague and pinpointing causes sets one up for being called a racist. It’s better to rename streets and schools and take some statues down. These moves are quantifiable and hence go further to qualm white guilt.

  16. Chicagoans don’t want to face that reality. They cannot stomach the reality that “My Kind of Town” is now a thug infested diaspora of crime, corruption and administrative incompetence.

  17. All very valid points Erin. Here’s a little tidbit being ignored by Chicago media. We wouldn’t want to alarm the public would we? Many of our “”migrants”/Illegals are here to do what they were doing in Venezuela. Conduct organized crime. Smash and grab/ shoplifting gangs have already organized and are going to work on retail stores. Thats only the beginning. Five Venezuelans were shot in Pilsen a couple of weeks ago. I guess the locals didn’t appreciate being told there were new gangsters in town. A Venezuelan migrant/ illegal was arrested the other day in the same area for committing a drive by shooting in retaliation. Venezuelans street gangs are organizing and are trying to out muscle our own local thugs (not Capones) who certainly won’t cooperate with the plan. Things are going to heat up in Pilsen. It should be a very interesting
    summer as our new voters settle in and get better guns and arms. Maybe John can call CPD and get the full story.

  18. For too long too many business leaders have thought that only marketing matters. No, product matters more than marketing. People will Chicago visit with good marketing, but they won’t stay. Marketing cannot redefine reality.

  19. Her account– Common Folk 365…I’m on it. As a Substack follower,mom looking forward to another quality column to follow !! Can’t wait.

    Erin, as always, a great read and of course you’re spot on.

    I’m starting to believe that comparing Chicago to Detroit is unfair….TO DETROIT !!!
    It’s getting to the point where Detroit is looking like a palace (and not Auburn Hills 😉) and will soon be the promised land by comparison.

  20. Solid insights, Ms. Geary. You are a wonderful writer.

    Why is it that you can look stunning your No Chumbolone hat, while I look like a gargoyle on crystal meth?

  21. Great article Erin. I’ll be logging into your Substack page. Some of your comments made me sad for what’s happened to Chicago and others had me laughing. Loved the tour group ideas. Maybe some brave entrepreneurs out there might want to create a package deal for tourists. Come see the lakefront, the shuttered stores, dumpster dive at what’s left of the restaurant scene & the tour bus thru crime ridden areas. For the real adventurer as you suggested, the “Running Man Chicago” where gamblers can wager online or in person who will survive & who won’t. Of course a liability waiver would have to be signed at the time of booking acknowledging the city is not responsible for any outcome.

  22. Hey! Please don’t blame Elgin’s School system for the errors of Mayor Johnson’s ways. Many bright, talented, successful and thoughtful people have graduated from district U46. Like all successful people they continue to advance and educate themselves. It’s long past time to blame the school district. Johnson has aligned himself with the wrong people and is bowing to what they say, instead of doing what is best for the city of Chicago. It’s sad for everyone involved!!

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