Last week I returned from a trip that took me through Cleveland, where a widespread corruption investigation threatens to ensnare many public officials in Cuyahoga County. Pol pals there appealed to their Chicago visitor for some perspective.
I found myself feeling uncharacteristically weary at the prospect of describing to them what constitutes corruption and inspires outrage around here anymore.
I think maybe I'm a little Chicago'd out.
I'm numb to the mayor's bald-faced denials. After he got away with saying he destroyed Meigs Field in the middle of the night to make our city safe from terrorists, how can I get excited when I hear the mayor say he didn't know of his nephew's multimillion dollar pension deal? I couldn't even muster the energy to explain the details to my Cleveland friends.
I'm tired of the technocrats the mayor appoints to apply their management systems and their "metrics" to infinite urban problems. When I saw there was a profile on Ron Huberman in the current issue of Chicago Magazine, it took all my resolve just to leaf through the magazine to find it. I watched Paul Vallas succeed and fail, and then even tried to listen to Marble Mouth Arne Duncan. How on earth am I supposed to get it up for Huberman? I read every third paragraph and went to bed early.
I'm lazily accepting of billion-dollar boondoggles. John Kass gets paid for his broken-record outrage at things like the Olympic bid. Me, I blew my volunteer wad on the tardy, hopelessly over-budget Millennium Park, and I actually forgot to mention the Olympics in the Cleveland conversation.
I fought City Hall once, in order to save a house next door that I'd discovered went back to 1859, making it one of the oldest in the city. During that fight, against a developer who wanted to tear the house down and a flaccid Chicago Landmarks Commission, I got advice from my political elders to avoid insulting Mayor Daley directly, or even to refer to Him in meetings about the house with city officials.
And I followed the advice (with the exception of a universally relevant and existentially satisfying cardboard sign I provided to picketers at a couple of protests, "Mayor Daley, Why?")
At one point, I got a handwritten note from Daley, thanking me for my preservation efforts. Months later, the house was torn down.
I'm starting to see how Mike Royko came to deride the good-government types as "goo-goos," either naive political newcomers or supremely cynical feeders on Chicago's dependable cycle of constant corruption and temporary consternation.
It's not that I'm sick of Mayor Daley. He's as entertaining as ever, and as much a confounding brew of political genius and moral vulgarity, animal intelligence and intellectual imbecility as he ever was.
I'm sick of Mayor Daley's Chicago because I feel I've seen it all twice.
I'm not proud of this perspective, nor am I content with it, nor do I even believe it's quite an accurate point of view. I plan to live here my whole life and and Slats Grobnik's clothes don't look good on me.
Who can show me something new under this particular sun? Who can send me back to Cleveland with a story about Chicago that begins, "OK, boys, get this ...."?