By: Mark Glennon*
There’s a simple continuum pervasive in Chicago showing how business interacts with city government:
At the left edge are outright shakedowns of business owners. That happens. At the right is the worst of crony capitalism — those who are happy to play the system and buy off who they need.
But most dealings with city hall are in the middle. Routine conduct isn’t criminal and usually isn’t even unethical from a business person’s standpoint. Most folks don’t like sending campaign contributions to Emanuel or their alderman, but they do because they’re afraid.
Chicago’s business people see it almost every day. Most are sick of it. Almost none, however, talk about it publicly or act to stop it.
Because we research what we do here, we know about silence in the business world, especially municipal finance. We talk to many of those folks — people on the inside who tell us privately what they can’t say publicly. Pay-to-play, the minority contracting racket, what campaign contributions are worth…all that stuff.
And we have no doubt it’s the same story beyond the business world, extending to pretty much everything that touches Chicago government.
Emanuel cultivated all that with a carrot and a stick. Pay up and play along and you’ll be OK. Cross him and, well, the consequences may be unclear but they don’t have to be specified. Everybody knows to be cautious.
Silence results, and silence stands in the way of reform.
But maybe, just maybe, a window is opening as Rahm leaves office. Maybe those who know, and who are important enough to make a difference, can start to talk, and start refusing to play along.
Mayoral candidate so far are mostly Progressives. Challenged as they are on math and economics, they’re not vindictive Machine types. They want reform on ethics.
This is an opportunity to make lasting changes in Chicago. The establishment business community’s traditional excuses for not acting are suspended.
*Mark Glennon is founder and executive editor of Wirepoints.