Crime and Safety

Chicago mayoral election is a warning to all major cities

Chicago’s February 28 mayoral primaries deserve close attention because of crime-weary, mismanaged citizens and the politicians who serve them.

The progressive politics that have dominated the Windy City for decades has reached a tipping point where headline after headline heralds violence and government failure at all levels. He even greets travelers as they exit planes, as recent images of sprawling homeless encampments at O’Hare International Airport corroborate. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is bracing herself for the very real possibility of a harsh voter rebuke, facing challenges from both moderate Democrats and candidates far to her left.

The election could send a signal to both Chicago and other major city leaders that their citizens can be far more moderate than the policies they are reluctant to tolerate. The election of a Chicago centrist would be a serious threat to the entrenched power structures currently running through big city politics, especially the undue influence of public sector unions.

Chicago mayoral election is a warning to all major cities
Once one of the world’s most vital cities, Chicago has lost more than 1 million residents in the past half century.

At the turn of 20th century Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Its population peaked in 1950 with 3.6 million inhabitants and a booming economy.

Today there are 1 million fewer Chicagoans, and emigration has accelerated in recent years. The root cause is no mystery: A new poll found that “nearly two-thirds of Chicagoans planning to vote in municipal elections this month don’t feel safe from crime.”

Public education also failed. Nearly 90,000 students — roughly 25% of the city’s total student population — have left the Chicago Public School System (CPS) since 2010 as families choose private schools or leave the city entirely. Those who still live in public areas are having a hard time: According to state data for 2022, nearly 80% of Chicago 11th graders couldn’t read or do math at grade level. Meanwhile, half of CPS students are chronically absent.

Photograph of a homeless man at O'Hare International Airport.
Huge camps for the homeless have recently sprung up at Chicago’s main staging post, O’Hare International Airport.
Matt Marton

Photograph of Chicago Mayor Laurie Lightfoot.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is bracing for the very real possibility of reprimanding voters.

Chicago is not the only city facing these problems. But this is the only city in which elections are now. And what happens in Chicago could easily set the tone for what happens elsewhere with regards to crime, public education, and public money in politics.

Hence, buckets of cash are pouring into this race. Lightfoot has about $2.75 million on hand, compared to $3.8 million for former CPS CEO Paul Wallas, considered the leading moderate in the race, and $2.5 million for left-wing US Rep. Jesús “Chui” Garcia. . Polls show that all three go head to head.

Headquarters of the Chicago Public School.
The Chicago public school system has lost almost 90,000 students in the last decade.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Public sector unions, which are funded by taxpayers in the form of contributions collected from the salaries of civil servants, are pouring money into the race on a progressive scale. The American Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) contributed more than $2.3 million to support CTU operative Brandon Johnson. In total, his campaign accounts for over $3 million – and Lightfoot clearly sees him as a threat.

Corruption and machine politics have always been a part of Chicago’s history, and the CTU is the undisputed leader of the current machine. It is, first and foremost, a political organization, and its politicking never stops, even when employees have to work in schools.

Along with the deplorable state of public schools, Chicago's record violent crime rate is a key reason why Chicagoans are leaving the city.
Along with the deplorable state of public schools, Chicago’s record violent crime rate is a key reason why Chicagoans are leaving the city.

Take John Coogler. In an interview for a new documentary, Local 1: The Rise of America’s Most Powerful Teacher Union, the licensed educator, formerly a CTU field representative, said he was “assigned to make political campaign calls during the workday. I have email.”

And this policy is not only focused on education. Often this means fighting for things like stopping bank funding, stopping police funding, amending the tax code, and supporting candidates who will repeat their left-wing agenda.

“I think in the end [the Chicago Teachers Union would] would like to take over not only Chicago’s public schools, but take over city government,” Mayor Lightfoot told The New York Times in 2021.

Photo of mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson.
Mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson raised over $3 million for his campaign, most of which came from progressive labor unions.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

They are on their way. The CTU funded the election campaigns of 34 of Chicago’s 50 current aldermen. But this is related to the course of teachers’ unions. According to a report filed by the US Department of Labor.

Parents have felt what this money can do during the pandemic as teacher unions from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York have successfully delayed class start dates or kept schools remote for months on end. New York’s schools have been home to some of the most far-reaching COVID policies, with students forced to wear masks until last March.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is barely a year old, but the election of a moderate in Chicago could influence New York's re-election vote.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is barely a year old, but the election of a moderate in Chicago could influence New York’s re-election vote.
Hans Pennink

Meanwhile, as CTU gets its way, crime spikes, the cost of living plummets, and learning outcomes plummet. Forty-five thousand people left Chicago in 2021. San Francisco lost 55,000 and New York lost 305,000, more than any major US city. Officials in both Chicago and New York correctly point out that homicide rates are down in 2022 compared to 2021. , but overall crime in both cities jumped more than 20%, mostly driven by burglaries and robberies. And the homicide rate in Chicago is still at its highest level since the 1990s.

What do all these cities have in common? A penchant for big government, along with close ties to progressive special interests and their money.

Enough. Management at the whim of ideologues and public sector unions has been exposed as a pernicious recipe in America’s big cities. Core voters want and deserve better, and Chicagoans have the earliest opportunity to vote for a new direction. True, the mayors of New York and Los Angeles may start their administrations early. But, like the rest of America, they must heed the headwind from the Windy City.

Matt Paprocki is President and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute.. On February 13, the institute released the documentary Local 1: The Rise of America’s Most Powerful Teacher Union.

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