Chicago Ascendent?: A Questionable Proposition


Recently, Chicago-based lobbyist and election attorney Dan Johnson-Weinberger wrote a rather positive blog entry for The Huffington Post. The subject matter was how great a place Chicago is. Here’s a quote:

Proudly multi-racial, ruthlessly pragmatic, open to hustling newcomers and somewhat audacious, Chicago's unique culture is ascendant.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates suggest something not mentioned in the Johnson-Weinberger puff piece. Since the year 2000,Chicago is the only city of America’s top five largest to lose population. While New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix all gained population: Chicago lost over 59,000 people. From 2000 to 2007, Chicago had a greater population loss than Detroit’s decline of 39,000. If things are moving in Chicago, it’s not all “positive.”

Take crime. According to the Chicago Tribune, the murder rate in Chicago is ascending:

Violent crime continued to rise in Chicago after a deadly July in which 62 people were killed, according to unofficial numbers provided by a police source.

For the first seven months of 2008, murders rose by 18 percent over the same period in 2007 and by nine percent for the same period in 2006. According to internal police data, 291 people were killed from January through July, up from 246 in 2007 and 266 in 2006.

Few cities can claim over one murder a day.

Overall, despite the political success of Senator Obama, 2008 has been a rather difficult year for Chicago. The city is currently in an economic recession. Mayor Daley estimates a budget shortfall of $400 million. Government worker layoffs are being proposed. Mayor Daley is throwing around numbers of 1000 to 2000 workers. Some suggest the number may reach 5000 to 7000 due to shrinking revenues. The revenue shortfall may even lead to Chicago’s credit rating being downgraded.

One key reason for the slowing down of revenues lies with the reduction of new real estate transaction. Sales tax revenues are also slowing. Recently, Cook County raised the sales tax rate. Chicago now has the highest sales tax rate in the country at 10.25 percent. In downtown Chicago, which is designated as a special taxing district to fleece tourists, the sales tax rate is 11.25 percent. Higher oil costs have cut down on air travel which has affected the tourist trade in downtown Chicago.

On top of all this, corruption, particularly relating to the Mafia, continues to thrive. As former Chicago criminal defense attorney Robert Cooley has stated, no amount of accomplishment or image-boosting can reverse this reality. A “high ranking made member” of the Chicago Mob was elected to Chicago’s City Council for 23 years. Today, in 2008, the FBI is still dealing with the fallout of this. No wonder the FBI has its largest public corruption squad located in Chicago. For the rest of the country to view Chicago as something positive or “progressive” reveals the ultimate triumph of good PR and hype over a far grittier reality.