Mayor Daley is hands-down the best mayor in the country.
That’s if you are a tourist.
Or, if you are a resident who lives in the hip and posh Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Old Town or Streeterville neighborhoods.
Chicago has it all. It’s home to Navy Pier, a “premiere entertainment center” that hosts 8.5 million visitors a year. Its walkway is so clean you can salvage your $8 toppled-over ice cream cone by licking it off the ground.
From the Pier, walk with your family a short 1/2 mile south, along glorious Lake Michigan. Whip out your AmEx and charge almost $485 for one of the most expensive NFL experiences: watch the Chicago Bears play in their newly renovated Soldier Field.
You also have the luxury of the free Lincoln Park Zoo. After you check out the monkeys, walk a short distance to North Avenue Beach, where the sand is so clean you can leave it in your ears after a day of beach volleyball.
Then there’s the part of Chicago that has no new residential high-rises or tourist attractions (unless you are looking to score some blow): the “South Side.”
But, Chicago’s dangerous and destitute South Side isn’t as far south as the Daley machine wants you to believe, nor is this area just a little pocket of poverty and crime. Instead, the South Side begins at the southern perimeter of Soldier Field and ends over 15 miles later, at the Indiana border.
This entire area has been left out of Daley’s city planning since he entered office in 1989. Take a drive south on Halsted (but do not stop) and you will see a real war zone.
For example, just two miles south of Soldier Field you will find what’s left of the Harold Ickes Homes, a public housing complex that is currently shutting down, while at the same time, its residents are being displaced. I spent a lot of time there. The elevators didn’t work and residents built platforms (made with a 2×4) outside of their doors to keep rats from entering their units.
There are actually children that live in this expansive area but its educational system, Chicago Public Schools, is rotten garbage. The dropout rate is somewhere around 50 percent yet only 0.1 percent of CPS teachers were dismissed for poor performance between 2005 and 2008. Many of the students are homeless. From 2007 to 2008, Chicago Public Schools saw a 28 percent rise in homeless students; that means a record-high 10,642 students were without a roof over their head.
Of course, these numbers do not reflect on Daley’s performance as mayor; they reflect the failure of the parents and students. Right?
Don’t worry, a small number of Chicago’s luckiest kids get to attend an inner-city private school. For example, Leo High School, an all-boys Catholic school located deep in the heart of the South Side at 7901 South Sangamon, has refused to shut its doors despite its reliance on donations. (Its budget is just $1.5 million for 175 students.)
Most of Leo’s students transfer from Chicago Public Schools. All of the students are African American.
Each incoming Leo student takes the Explorer entrance exam (which is used to gauge ACT scores); the majority of boys score well below the 40th percentile. After a Leo education, however, the students score an average of 16 on the ACT exam. The graduation rate is 100% and 93% of Leo students go to college. Leo is the only private school in the state’s history to win five state track championships.
Please be Pat Hickey’s guest; as the director of development, he’ll give you a tour of the school. You will see the crack house that was just torn down directly across the street. Then, Principal Phil Mesina will greet you at the entrance. He will tell you how thankful he is for Loyola’s donation of its used chairs and desks. During the tour, try to ignore the popping noises from outside. No big deal, it’s just the sound of guns being fired down the street. You will also meet Leo’s newest addition: Dan McGrath. “Dan is the president for institutional advancement. He articulates the continuation for Leo’s mission; without that, Leo dies,” says Pat.
As I walked the halls, I struggled with my feelings. On one hand, it was clear that without McGrath, Hickey and Mesina leading the school, 175 boys would not have a chance to succeed in life. But, on the other hand, what about all of the other boys and girls in Chicago’s public schools? Why don’t they get the same opportunity?
Never mind the crime within the schools. During the 2009 academic year alone, 28 students were killed.
The city’s crime isn’t Daley’s fault either.
This year alone, there were 257 killings between January and July, and in 2009, there were 458 total killings. A report in July 2009 listed 25 of the most dangerous cities in the country. Four Chicago neighborhoods were on that list. Four.
Crime even plagues the Chicago Police Department itself. Lest not forget that while Daley was Cook County State’s Attorney, Police Commander Jon Burge tortured black men into confessions. They went straight to death row. (Fortunately, Governor Ryan pardoned them before he left office.)
Fast-forward twenty years. Chicago taxpayers recently paid $19.8 million to just four torture victims. Five lawsuits are still pending and taxpayers also paid over $10 million to defend Mr. Burge. Corruption costs in more ways than one.
Numbers don’t lie.
When the numbers reveal that a business is in crisis, the boss cannot blame his staff, nor can he blame his clients or customers. Ultimately, he has to answer to the board of directors and they don’t want to hear excuses.
Every alderman, state representative, and employee on the City of Chicago’s payroll has a responsibility, as does every resident of Chicago. But, at the end of the day, Mayor Daley ran out of excuses.
Chicago, in its entirety, must undergo a major transformation. We must demand that every mayoral candidate has a plan for change, opportunity and growth for everyone. Navy Pier will continue to attract the tourists. Now is the time to look south.
Tamara N. Holder is one of the nation’s rising attorneys and legal analytical stars. She is a Contributor for the Fox News Channel. She has received recognition from some of the country’s most respected people, organizations and publications. Tamara founded The Law Firm of Tamara N. Holder, LLC in 2005. Her work includes: criminal defense, expungement, race discrimination, police brutality, public policy, and pro bono practices. Seeing the need for outreach in this area, Tamara founded www.xpunged.com, a practice that provides a second chance to those individuals who have expungeable offenses under Illinois law.