Coincidentally with the Illinois Dept. of Resources' desperate (and probably too-late) effort to stop Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes comes another tragically predictable outcome of local politics. The Mayor of Chicago this week forced a budget through the City Council over an unusually-high 12 dissenting votes that raids the paltry parking meter trust fund only a year after the (allegedly) corrupt and (actually) stupid decision exactly a year ago to sell the streets of Chicago:
As has become customary, aldermen bitched and moaned about Mayor Daley’s $6.1 billion budget before they passed it today. Nobody claimed to like it, though 38 aldermen voted in favor of it. But that number is smaller than it has been for most of Daley's reign. In years past the mayor viewed a single nay vote as an intolerable act of defiance; these days he’s lucky no one else has the clout to wield or goodies to hand out that he does, because his governing style is wearing thinner among an ever larger group of aldermen. As in a dozen.
Still, their arguments are getting more pointed. For evidence, consider the diatribe that 38th Ward alderman Tom Allen delivered to explain why he was casting his first vote against a Daley budget since the mayor appointed him to the City Council in 1993. “I have come to the conclusion that this 2010 budget is one that I have no confidence in,” Allen said.
He offered three reasons. “First and foremost,” he said, “the parking meter spending plan here I consider to be a breach of our fiduciary duties to the taxpayers that we represent.” Allen produced materials that Daley budget aides had distributed to aldermen a year ago when they rammed the 75-year parking meter privatization deal through the council in four days. He said aldermen were promised that the administration would save enough of the proceeds that the interest on them would equal or exceed the $20 million the city was accustomed to collecting from the meters. Instead, Daley’s budget will burn through two-thirds of the replacement fund in a single year.
The pattern should be familiar to students of 20th-century history. As they grow older, leaders become more concerned with their legacies than their constituents. The trend accelerates, until, near the end of their political careers, they almost inevitably experience epic failure. In the case of fairly-elected leaders in functioning democracies, the results are merely disappointing: Clinton, Nixon, and Gray Davis come to mind. But in the case of one-party states, where the leaders have no functioning or effective opposition, the outcome often destroys the polis as it destroys the leader: Mugabe, Cheney, and recently the mayors of Baltimore and Detroit.
I don't know which hypothesis I prefer: that Daley doesn't actually believe his actions will prove beneficial to the city in the long run, so he's feathering his nest before retiring; or that Daley, after 17 years without tolerating any criticism or dissent, has gotten so deluded he really thinks these decisions are good. Of course, without an effective challenger—where's Harold Washington when we need him most?—we're stuck with Daley Sese Seku until he chooses to leave office.