Chicago Mayoral Election

Patrick Miner

In less than three weeks, a Chicago election will decide the future of the nation’s second most powerful mayoral post. Like New York’s Bloombergian Monarchy, Chicago’s mayorship has been held for ages by one powerful figure. Richard M. Daley, son of former Chicago-King Richard J. Daley, is not seeking reelection after his 22 years in office.
R.M. Daley’s recent accomplishments include making a deal to lease Chicago’s parking meters to an infrastructure investment fund in December 2008. The venture, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, is managed by Morgan Stanley and will control Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters for 75 years. In October 2008, two months prior to the deal, Morgan Stanley received a $10 billion bailout from the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Trouble Asset Relief Program.
Why, then, did Morgan Stanley’s fund pay $1.15 billion to Chicago for control over a public utility when they were receiving 10 billion in public dollars pulled from taxpayers?
Daley and his government struck the parking privatization deal to seal up a gap in the budget, but according to a report by the staff of Scott Waguespack, Alderman for the 32nd ward, the actual value of the meters over the lease term is at least $4 billion. A memorandum from Morgan Stanley’s fund predicted that they will receive $11.6 billion from consumers over the course of the lease – the meter prices were quadrupled after the deal was made and they will double again in less than two years.
Daley’s deal to lease the meters not only puts a strain on drivers, but it will also cause future budget problems. Furthermore, the signing of the lease was illegal because it holds future City Councils to the terms of the current council. Attorney Clint Krislov, who filed a lawsuit concerning the deal, stated in December that “other city councils have the right to make new laws and regulations and [this deal] binds other city councils in that respect.”
Parking for an hour in the Loop now costs $5 – up from $3 before the lease began. Daley either lacks the ability to weigh the consequences of his actions or he doesn’t care that his plan will cost the city and taxpayers billions.
In the mayoral race, the privatization of the meters has been a common talking point. Of the six candidates who will appear on the ballot, former Senator Carol Moseley Braun has been the only one to take a strong stance against the parking deal: “Chicagoans need a mayor who will be on their side, not on the side of Morgan Stanley and the investment bankers who make billions off of the quarters we feed these meters.”
Gery Chico, current mayoral candidate and former head of the Chicago Public Schools, calls Moseley’s plan to take back control of the meters “wild-eyed… reckless… irresponsible.” Candidate William Walls proposed a compromise of sorts where the city recovers a small portion of each year’s meter profits. But such a compromise belittles the authority of the city government to protect its residents.
Comments from Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff, have so far referred mostly to the misuse of the $1.15 billion garnered through the project: “I do have a problem because the money was not used for its original intended purpose, which was to invest in key infrastructure, investments in making the city a more productive city economically so you can grow jobs.” However, according to the Chicago Tribune, none of the $1.15 billion was actually intended for these purposes.
This less-than-truthful remark does not come as a huge surprise given Emanuel’s history. His past activities include advocating for the passing of the disaster known as NAFTA, accepting campaign contributions from Freddie Mac though he served on its board, sending a dead fish in the mail to a pollster and shouting the names of political opponents over dinner while stabbing a steak knife into the table and yelling, “dead!”
The privatization of Chicago’s parking meters is just one issue in this election that can serve as a tool for analyzing candidates. Chicago’s new mayor needs to take into account the city’s long-term sustainability and put the interests of residents at the fore – making the Chicago brand of corruption a thing of the past.