Transparency and Honest Counsel in the Mayor’s Office

14 02 2012

Mr. Mayor, why won’t you tell this woman what your staff was saying about her dead grandchild?

That’s the devastating question Chicago Tribune reporter David Kidwell leaves unasked at the end of his forceful article on the Mayor’s refusal to release his staff’s internal communications regarding the city’s plan to build a network of red-light cameras across the city. I’m not giving a blockquote to encourage you to read the article. Go ahead, then come back. Or, open it in a new tab and switch back and–you know what, you know what you’re doing.

The full transcript of Kidwell’s contentious interview with the Mayor, released by the Tribune as a companion piece to the article, is a winding, gruff dialog between approaches to transparency, accountability, and even democracy. At times frankly insulting (“I mean this insulting so get it right”) and at times sounding like legal wrangling in a courtroom (“You said there is a disconnect. That’s a conclusion. How do you know there’s a disconnect?”), Kidwell and Emanuel argue about just what transparency means and just how voters are supposed to hold their elected leaders accountable.

Throughout the interview, the Mayor is frustrated that the Tribune seems to have decided what “transparency” means–e.g., full access to internal administration decisionmaking–and passes judgment on his commitment to his transparency pledge based on their interpretation. The Mayor repeatedly chides the Tribune for ignoring the will of the voters on the matter–diminishing the Tribune’s concerns as out of step with the type of transparency people want. This is, at first glance, the “voters don’t care about process, just results” philosophy.

But that’s not all it is, and–I can’t believe I’m writing this–I have to side, with some reservations, with the Mayor.

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Malaise In the Neoliberal City

1 02 2012

Why bother?

I vaguely remember being pugnacious about the direction our leadership was taking the city in, of having some degree of passion about what was wrong and what was right–or at least, what was wrong and what was potentially better. I filled notebooks–I’m flipping through one now–with ideas for articles and research projects that could contribute, in some way, to avoiding calamity, to exposing the material reality under the political rhetoric. Flipping through these notebooks now, scrolling through the myriad unpublished drafts, nothing stirs me. What I feel is more akin to a sad curiosity, how it must feel to look at optimistic battle plans scrawled on maps for some war that was lost long ago.

Our biggest enemy, I realized, is a lack of ideas for how to improve the human family. A complete lack of ambition to create a better world from yet another generation. Chicago, the laboratory neoliberal city, doesn’t belong to us anymore. It’s a “global” city belonging to people who don’t even live here, and we have no ideas how to take it, or any other city, back from them.

When Rahm Emanuel announced his candidacy for the Mayor’s office, it was taken as assumed that he’d win. The media never treated any of his opponents seriously–and perhaps they should not have. Though it is a bit of an observer interference problem; the media treatment of candidacy certainly has an impact on their chances of success. Emanuel won the neoliberal’s way: he tapped his connections to international business, and particular finance, and drown his opponents in cash. A quirky twitter account got more coverage than his opponents. That was that.

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