Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chicago’s “Elite Eight” for ‘08

I enjoy this old postcard image of downtown Chicago, from before the days when the Sears Tower and Hancock Center dominated the skyline. Image provided by Chicago Postcard Museum (

In the history of Chicago, 2008 won’t go down quite as adventurous a news year as, say 1968, 1929 or 1871.

But the year that will be complete in just a dozen more days did have its share of stories worth remembering. Considering this weblog began its existence one year ago today with a promise to “help people better understand what is happening on the shores of Lake Michigan between Evanston and East Chicago, Ind.,” today is as good a day as any to review the year’s top stories.

8 – MILOROD GETS BUSTED: Some people are going to disagree with me and claim I’m downplaying the legal predicament now faced by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

I will be the first to admit that moving forward with impeachment of an Illinois governor is unprecedented. So is the degree to which a Chicago public official is accused of such crass (how else do you describe trying to “sell” the former post held by the biggest-name goo goo in politics today?) public behavior.

But I rank it at the bottom of this list for one reason – the real saga is going to come when the legal process progresses to the point where a trial takes place in U.S. District Court (or when Blagojevich enters a “guilty” plea to some sort of lesser charge).

In all likelihood, that will take place some time in 2010 (or 2011, or some year thereafter, if attorney Ed Genson gums up the legal works with enough procedural motions like he did with the criminal case of rapper R. Kelly, whose case took five years to go to trial).

When that happens, I will gladly proclaim the Blagojevich trial the Number One story of the year. Until then, I’ll have to agree that Genson’s characterization earlier this week of the Illinois House committee’s impeachment hearings as “stupid” has an element of truth to it.

7 – SKY-HIGH PRICES GIVE ME GAS: The times I have pumped gasoline in my car this week, I have paid somewhere in the area of $1.60 per gallon It wasn’t all that long ago that the only Chicago-area motorists who paid that much for gas were those stupid enough to use those overly-taxed pumps at filling stations in and near the Loop.

But it comes off as sounding like a bargain basement rate when compared to the more than $4 per gallon we were paying back in the summer months. At one point, Chicago-area motorists were paying an average of $4.24 per gallon (with those downtown pumps charging rates dangerously close to $5 per gallon). We had the highest average in the United States – even higher than isolated places like Alaska and Hawaii.

The end result of this gas price fiasco is that we are now used to paying ridiculous rates for petrol, and are inclined to think of the current price as some sort of bargain for which we should feel grateful. It also has many of us wondering how high gas will go come the summer of 2009.

If it weren’t for the steadily increasing rates (combined with service cuts) for mass transit, I’d be inclined to junk my automobile once and for all.

6 – BASEBALL IS MORE THAN A GAME: It’s a nerve-wracking ordeal.

In one sense, Chicago baseball in 2008 was historic. For the first time in 102 years, both of the major league teams representing the city made it through their six-month regular season ordeal to finish the season in First Place.

Both ball clubs will hold rituals in April to raise banners over their respective ballparks declaring themselves to be “Central Division Champs” of their respective leagues. And the way the White Sox managed to win that division title by winning a string of end-of-season games (with a loss in any one of them bringing their season to a Second Place conclusion) is something that ought to be remembered for decades to come.

Yet what is going to be remembered is the way both the White Sox and Cubs managed to lose the first round of their playoffs (I still see merchandise for sale touting the idea that the Cubs were destined to win the World Series this year). While the Sox managed to be competitive and win a game, the Cubs got swept in such humiliating fashion (for the second year in a row) that many of us wonder what was it about this team that made anyone take it seriously to begin with?

5 – AUCTIONING OFF THE ASSETS: Much has been made of the idea that Rod Blagojevich was selling off a U.S. Senate seat to the highest political bidder. But in a sense, Richard M. Daley did the exact same thing with some of the city’s assets that (if managed properly) can bring in revenue.

I’m talking about the deals made to turn control of Midway Airport from the Chicago Aviation Department to a private company, and another deal to let a private company oversee the parking meters on city streets.

Much has been made of the fact that parking along downtown streets could someday (by 2013) reach a rate of $6.50 per hour.

But what gets to me is why city officials think such income-producing resources are better off in the hands of private companies. While I appreciate the short-term benefit of millions of dollars being pumped into the city coffers, the long-term harm is that there will be nothing left for city government to oversee.

If that’s the case, why don’t we just auction off control of the City Council and Mayor’s office to a private management firm that could do all the actual work of government management? Then, Daley & Co. could sit back and do nothing, which some smart-aleck observers might think is an improvement.

4 – LANE BRYANT BANDIT REMAINS AT-LARGE: It was back in early February that a would-be robber at a Lane Bryant store in southwest suburban Tinley Park got carried away and killed five women (including some who were nothing more than customers).

The senselessness of the slayings caught the national mindset, and people across the country were paying attention to us for a time. It also inspired some of the craziest conspiracy theories (such as the idea that the robber/killer was some sort of homophobe who picked a Lane Bryant store because of the perception that transvestites shop there).

I even remember a few religious fanatics trying to turn the funerals of at least one of the women killed at the store into an excuse to protest against gay people.

But when one puts the mindless nonsense aside, the fact is we still don’t have a clue as to whodunit, or what the motivation for the slayings was (even though we’re pretty sure it will turn out to be something trivial).

3 – SCOTUS BANS FIREARMS BANS, CHICAGO SAYS “NO”: It was earlier this year that the Supreme Court of the United States gave gun nuts their jollies by issuing a ruling that struck down the stringent bans on firearm ownership in the District of Columbia.

The activists who can’t envision life without their high-powered rifles (and view ownership of an AK-47 or an M-16 as the equivalent of the car collector who likes to drive fine sports cars) immediately started filing lawsuits against other cities that try to restrict firearms ownership – including Chicago.

Many of those towns (such as Morton Grove, Ill., the suburb that enacted the original firearms ban) decided to avoid litigation by eliminating their bans, or amending them so as to make them pointless.

But Chicago stood firm, refused to make any changes, and recently got a federal judge to rule that the city’s ban is constitutional. That ruling is now susceptible to challenge in appeals courts, and it is possible that a higher court will try to overturn the local judge’s ruling.

But in my mind, that merely confirms that the high court’s action was a politically partisan move on behalf of a conservative constituency – rather than any serious reservation about the legitimacy of gun bans.

2 – I CAN HEAR THE OLYMPIC MARCH ALREADY: The next summer Olympiad is to be held in 2012 in London, with the next one after that in 2016 still in search of a site.

And there’s a chance that Chicago will become that site, bringing the eyes of the world to our city similar to how the presidential campaign of Barack Obama kept showing off aspects of Chicago life to the nation.

The U.S. Olympic Committee made it official when they officially chose Chicago to be the focus of their efforts to get the Olympics in the United States, rejecting a proposal by Los Angeles.

Now I suppose it’s possible that the International Olympic Committee could be delusional enough to think Madrid, Tokyo or Rio de Janiero is a nicer city than Chicago. Of course, that would mean they’re the same kind of people who think Britney Spears has legitimate musical talent.

The Olympics in our city would have the opportunity to give our city a grand new image, while also pressuring city officials to finally get off their duffs and fix some of those problems (ie., mass transit) that confront our daily lives.

As for those people who claim the headaches of staging the Olympics are not worth it, all I have to say is, “pipe down.” You probably think the Illinois State Fair is a grand old time, instead of the most overrated excuse for a corn-dog fest ever derived.

1 – YES, WE DID: The rise of Barack Obama from the obscurity of Illinois politics to being able to work in the Oval Office without causing the Secret Service to arrest him could very well turn out to be the “Chicago Story of the Decade.”

I can remember after his loss to Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., for a seat in Congress that political people were wondering if the Obama intellect was destined to fizzle out before it ever rose to new levels.

Even at the beginning of ’08, people figured Hillary R. Clinton (the suburban Park Ridge native-turned-Arkansan-turned New Yorker) was the shoo-in for the Democratic Party’s nomination, and Obama was just a pretty face who could give good oratory.

But he gained an advantage with an early win in the Iowa caucuses (where participants don’t view Chicago and Illinois as some alien land), and he ran up a string of primary victories despite the aspects of Chicago culture (Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Antoin Rezko, etc.) that may seem alien to those people not fortunate enough to live in the Second City.

Insofar as the general election, Obama won because a majority of the people decided they liked political newcomer Barack and didn’t care much for the other newcomer – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

In the end, Honolulu-native Obama (who like many others adopted Chicago as his home when he started his adult life) caused people from across the country to converge Election Night on Grant Park to celebrate the fact that he will become the first U.S. president with significant Chicago ties (Abraham Lincoln was a Springpatcher, while Ronald Reagan ditched Illinois for California, and Ulysses Grant didn’t live in our state long enough to qualify, in my mind).

And come Jan. 20, when Obama takes the oath of office to become the 44th U.S. president, this country will have a chief executive with an innate knowledge of all things Chicago, including why it is totally absurd to think one can root for both Sox and Cubs come the Cross-town Classic.


No comments: