Sunday, March 14, 2010


The New Yorker recently ran a profile of Chicago mayor Richard Daley, by Evan Osnos. According to Chicago Reader columnist Ben Jorvavsky, Osnos is "a former [Chicago] Tribune reporter who's spent most of his career in New York and overseas and now lives in China."

Joravsky wrote a wonderful rebuttal to Osnos's puff piece, called "Taking the New Yorker for a Ride: The Chicago in Evan Osnos's Story is the Chicago You'd see out the Window of the Mayor's Limo." Here's an excerpt:

Osnos invokes the old Wall Street Journal line about Chicago being "Beirut on the lake" in the 1980s, as Washington and his white City Council battled for control of city government. "Daley took office at a moment when Chicago was paralyzed by infighting and mismanagement," Osnos writes. "In 1987 William Bennett, the Secretary of Education, said that Chicago had the worst school system in the country—'an education meltdown.' The center of the city was a desiccating museum of masterpieces by Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan. Infant mortality in remote neighborhoods was comparable to levels in the Third World."

But then in 1989 Richie took charge, and "in the years that followed, Detroit, Cleveland, and other former industrial powers continued to wither, but Chicago did not. It has grown in population, income, and diversity; it has added more jobs since 1993 than Los Angeles and Boston combined. Downtown luxury condos and lofts have replaced old warehouses and office blocks. New trees and flower beds line the sidewalks and sprout from the roofs of high-rises. (Chicago has significantly more green roofs than any other city in America.) Diners and pizza joints have given way to daring restaurants like Alinea and L2O, where the chefs Grant Achatz and Laurent Gras are among America's highest priests of the chemically complex food known as molecular gastronomy. Chicago is a post-industrial capital of innovation from house music to fashion—the Milan of the Midwest, as the Washington Post put it last year."

OK, stop. I can't take it anymore. Who wrote this stuff, Billy Dec? I like a good meal as much as the next guy, but what the hell does any of this have to do with Mayor Daley?

The downtown real estate boom was part of a larger demographic shift that started in the 1980s. It's true that it was fortified with the hundreds of millions of property tax dollars Daley has handed over to well-connected developers and corporations, but it's also true that thousands of the swank new condos are empty because there's nobody in the market to fill them.

Osnos also repeats City Hall's boast about leading the country in buildings with green roofs. But as the Reader has reported, his administration has also failed to offer residents a real recycling program, stood by as two coal-fired power plants on the southwest side produce dangerous air pollution, and done little to implement its own plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And while I'm at it—house music? House music originated in the late 1970s, when Frankie Knuckles started spinning at the Warehouse on South Jefferson. If any mayor should get credit for house music, it's Michael Bilandic....

Joravsky is just warming up, and best is yet to come (especially the kicker); read his piece in its entirety here.


Photo snapped a few weeks ago by CK (c) 2010.

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