Horist: Chicago No Longer My Kind of Town
I was born in Chicago. Spent most of my life in the Windy City. I grew up in a gritty neighborhood on the northwest side. I spent time in every neighborhood in-depth with every conceivable ethnic group.
I fought against the Democrat’s racist and corrupt political machine. My civic activism coincidentally started as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago about the time Mayor Richard M. Daley died. That is significant because the City was freed from the iron-fisted rule of “Da Boss.”
It was not a complete reversal, but under a succession of later mayors, there was a vacuum to be filled by the civic community. Political edicts were replaced by negotiations. You could fight City Hall and occasionally win. In the post-Boss days, Chicago had a woman mayor and two black mayors.
During those years, Chicago was a great place to live and bring up children. The neighborhoods were safe – with the notable exception of the segregated minority communities. But progress was being made.
Circumstances brought me to South Florida – not disdain for Chicago. Naturally, I maintained an interest in Chicago – and occasionally wrote about some of the latest events. In the eleven years since my departure, I watched my hometown change into a city I had never known.
Places where we safely walked the streets – and the children would play outside without supervision – turned into places of violence and death. Those places included the heart of downtown Chicago. My youngest son was raised in a Michigan Avenue high-rise with Grant Park as his playground. Today that section of Chicago is terrorized by marauding mobs.
My son attended elementary school at Holy Name Cathedral. He could play outside or walk across the street for a Mcdonald’s burger. That was recently the site of a gang-related mass shooting that killed two people.
We would often walk to the Magnificent Mile to shop and enjoy a soda fountain treat at the Godiva Chocolate shop. That has become the scene of crash-and-snatch looting. Chicago was famous for its parks and beaches.
Many of those have been taken over by the homeless and drug addicts. It is not uncommon to see needles and other drug paraphernalia on the ground.
Over the years, I have given hundreds of speeches at churches and civic meetings in the inner city. Not much changed for those trapped in the segregated neighborhoods, with the notable exception of crime – deadly crime.
Chicago’s segregated community always had a deprivation of education, jobs, quality housing, and maintained infrastructure – but one aspect of ghetto life got a lot worse. Crime.
My son recently got married and is living in a home on Chicago’s far north side. One of those invigorating diverse neighborhoods with interesting shops and restaurants. The other day, a person was shot outside his front door. At about the same time, a friend was found floating in the Chicago River.
As I see it, the decline of Chicago came about the time the infamous Chicago Democrat political machine was re-established by the second Mayor Daley – Richard M. – the son of Da Boss. In terms of government and civic corruption, young Richard was a lot like his father.
Unlike his father, young Richard was woke before the term achieved widespread usage. The combination has been disastrous for the Windy City – and it continued to get worse under the leadership of the mayors who succeeded Daley – Rahm Emanuel, Lori Lightfoot, and now in-coming Mayor Brandon Johnson. Under their leadership of the first two, Chicago has been devastated by financial mismanagement (corruption) … soaring crime rates due to ineffective law enforcement … an unprecedented drug crisis … and, to add insult to injury, taxes are soaring. Mayor-elect Johnson may be even worse than his predecessors.
There is a sad, ironic twist to my Chicago story. As the head of the City Club of Chicago, I launched a range of civic projects – including two investigations of police corruption … a civic investigation that forced a corrupt official off the Library Board … fighting city hall’s efforts to shut down Marva Collins’ private school serving the Black community … a similar effort to stop the shutdown of Probation Challenge, an operation fighting recidivism. I led the successful fight to save the historic Chicago Theatre.
Shorty after my departure from Chicago, the City Club was taken over by a political hack named Jay Doherty, who used the Club as his personal lobbying operation and as an adjunct to the Democrat political machine. All the reform work was shut down. The 100-year history of civic reform was cancelled.
But justice caught up with Doherty. He was ousted from the City Club and has been fined $75,000 for failing to disclose his lobbying activities. He is currently standing trial for bribery and conspiracy for funneling money to then House Speaker Michael Madigan for the benefit of clients.
Chicago is now an exodus city – with both residents and businesses leaving in record numbers. A lot of those folks are taking up residency near me in southern Florida.
We have seen this movie before. Its title is “Detroit.” In those better times, I used to use Detroit and Chicago as the opposite edges of the municipal continuum. Despite several eras of “renaissance” in Detroit, it still remains a forlorn political and civic environment.
Unfortunately, Chicago has slipped to the Motor City side of that continuum. It is a City I no longer recognize.
So, there ‘tis.