Standing in the Belltown Labor Temple in early June at a mayoral candidate forum, Seattle City Council member Jan Drago used the "c" word. The incumbent's style was "the Chicago way." The "Chicago" epithet has been dogging Mayor Greg Nickels almost since the day he took office. A 2006 story claimed Nickels had "belied his big-softy reputation by instituting a regime of Chicago-style hardball politics that has left a timid city council cowed."
Laura Onstot, "Greg Nickels a Chicago- Style Bully? Opponents who paint as an employer of Windy City political tactics clearly have never been there," Seattle Weekly, July 22, 2009.
Nickels seems guilty of the bully stuff, boldly picked his own staff, and seems to have regularly blown-off "Seattle Process" norms. But Chicago? Nickels' record of heavy-handedness is interspersed with snippets from the real Chicago -- corruption, control, punishment. Even Al Capone is invoked. Things ain't that bad in Seattle.
Who can defend this picture of Chicago? Not me, a Chicagoan in semi-exile. I've always admired the continuity of staff and leaders in Seattle municipal government -- it's not just kept things running but Seattle government has nurtured real talent and innovation and the ability to do things well that take a long time.
Unfortunately, Onstot left out a few data points worth considering about this picture of Chicago -- Mayor Harold Washington and President Barack Obama, for example. Chicago's also the home of community organizing that has battled the tyrants. Still is.
And sympathy for Meigs Field, the airport for corporate elites?
Oddly, Nickels and the current Daley do share another likeness -- being tagged as two of the leading mayors for climate change and green cities. Think of that!